Shooting in the dark; Afghanistan’s endless war pits brother against brother

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – The 19-year-old Taliban deserter is haunted by the memory of the attack on a police checkpoint in northern Afghanistan in August.

The Taliban band of around 20 fighters began its assault at 10 pm, he recalled, and by sunrise, all twelve Afghan police were dead.

Kneeling in the blood-soaked sand of the bunker as he and his comrades checked the bodies for weapons and ammunition, the young militant made a terrible discovery – one of the dead men was his elder brother.

Two months later, he fled following an air strike that killed several of his band. Now hiding in Kunduz district, fearing reprisals by the Taliban for deserting, the young man and his father told their harrowing story on condition of anonymity.

“I faced the darkest moment of my life seeing my brother’s body covered with blood and dust,” the younger brother told Reuters, fear visible on his face as he sat inside a car. “For a while the daylight turned to a dark night as if someone put a black hood on my head.”

The father of the brothers said he volunteered the younger boy to fight for the Taliban after the militants learnt that the elder son was with the police.

The government accuses the Taliban of commonly using the tactic to intimidate families caught up in the 18-year-long war.

“The Taliban torture and even kill innocent people to make them to join, mostly in remote rural areas where people have no other option,” said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan government.

The militant group denies this, though it said it does pressurize families not to join the security services of a government it regards as illegitimate and propped up by foreign forces.

FINE BALANCE

The family, like many in the northern Kunduz province, make a difficult living subsistence farming wheat, rice and mung beans. To ease the hardship, the elder brother enlisted in police in 2006 to help support his family, his father said.

A few months later, he recalled Taliban representatives visiting his mud-brick home to persuade him to make a fateful choice – either he should make his elder son quit the police, or he should volunteer one of his seven other sons to join the militants.

“It was a difficult decision for the whole family, but we had no other choice: the Taliban were extorting us,” he said, a sense of resignation in his voice, on why he allowed his youngest son to join. “They blocked the water to our crops.”

He knew the impact his decision might have.

“Having a son in the police and giving the other to the Taliban means telling them to kill each other,” he said.

The Taliban now controls more territory than at any point since it was ousted from power by U.S.-led coalition forces in 2001. With that gain comes increasing friction with Afghans who have lived in what were previously government-held areas, experts said.

“The Taliban are not aliens: they are undeniable part of Afghan society,” said Atiqullah Amarkhel, a former general who served in the Afghan army between 1960 and 2009.

“Many families of members of the Afghan security forces are living in rural areas and most of these areas are either completely controlled or heavily influenced by the Taliban.”

Similar stories have emerged elsewhere in the country.

Hikmatullah, a sergeant in the Afghan army from the eastern Nangarhar province, said the Taliban imprisoned one of his younger brothers after he joined the security forces. They eventually released him, but after consulting with his father, he too joined the militant group.

“This decision was not his choice or desire, but he was forced, in fact the whole family was forced because we were frustrated from the daily torture,” Hikmatullah, who goes by only one name, said.

“Whenever I get into a clash with the Taliban, I feel that my brother is standing in front of me and I am firing at him.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, denied it coerced people to join.

“We sometime force those families not to serve in the front line with the Afghan police or army, because we don’t want them to lose their precious lives,” he said. “Joining us is their personal choice.”

The former Taliban fighter was deeply affected by his brother’s death in the raid. In October, after an Afghan airstrike killed five of his comrades in the Taliban, he fled.

He now lives away from the family’s land with his father and brother’s family.

“Whenever I look to the three children of my late brother, I feel guilty as if I am the killer,” he said. “I don’t forgive myself.”

(Additional reporting by Sardar Razmal in Kunduz and Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Senior Yemen Qaeda leader calls for knife and car attacks on Jews

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has called for knife and car attacks on Jews in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. SITE monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Citing a video recording by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s al-Malahem media foundation, SITE said that Khaled Batarfi, believed to be the number two man in AQAP after Qassim al-Raymi, also warned that no Muslim had the right to cede any part of Jerusalem.

“The Muslims inside the occupied land must kill every Jew, by running him over, or stabbing him, or by using against him any weapon, or by burning their homes,” Batarfi said in the 18-minute-long recording entitled “Our duty towards our Jerusalem”, according to SITE.

“Every Muslim must know that the Americans and the disbeliever West, and on top of them Britain and France, are the original reason behind the existence of the Jews in Palestine.”

Trump enraged Muslims last month when he announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he intends to transfer the U.S. embassy there.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a regional visit, said on Monday that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv before the end of 2019.

Batarfi was one of some 150 jailed AQAP members who were freed when the militant group, regarded by the United States as one of the deadliest branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, captured the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in 2015, where he was held.

Yemeni forces, baked by a Saudi-led coalition have since recaptured Mukalla and driven AQAP out, but Batarfi, who has since assumed a senior position in the group, remains at large.

AQAP has plotted to down U.S. airliners and claimed responsibility for 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. AQAP also has boasted of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and the Pentagon estimates it has between about 2,000 and 3,000 fighters.

Batarfi said Muslims in Western countries, including the United States, were obliged to target the interests of Jews and the Americans.

“They must be eager to prepare themselves as much as possible, and to carry out jihadi operations against them,” he added, according to SITE.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 in a move not internationally recognized, regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi)

Philippines’ Duterte says police can kill ‘idiots’ who resist arrest

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets Lorenza de los Santos and husband Saldy, parents of 17-year-old high school student Kian Delos Santos, who was killed recently in police raid in line with the war on drug, during their visit at Malacanang presidential complex in metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told police on Monday they could kill “idiots” who violently resist arrest, two days after hundreds of people turned the funeral of a slain teenager into a protest against his deadly war on drugs.

Duterte met the parents of the schoolboy, 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, at the presidential palace in Manila on Monday, to assure them their son’s case would be handled fairly.

Delos Santos’ mother, Lorenza, said she was confident the president would help quickly resolve the case, while the father, Saldy, said he no longer feared for their lives and felt reassured by the meeting.

“He promised he would not allow those who have committed wrong to go unpunished,” the mother said in an interview posted online by Duterte’s communications office on a Facebook page after the meeting.

Duterte unleashed the anti-drugs war after taking office in June last year following an election campaign in which he vowed to use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.

Thousands of people have been killed and the violence has been criticized by much of the international community.

Domestic opposition has been largely muted but the killing of delos Santos by anti-drugs officers on Aug. 16 has sparked rare public outrage.

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

More than 1,000 people, including nuns, priests and hundreds of children, joined his funeral procession on Saturday, turning the march into one of the biggest protests yet against Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.

Earlier, Duterte broke off midway through a prepared speech at the Hero’s Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila and addressed impromptu comments to Jovie Espenido, the police chief of a town in the south where the mayor was killed in an anti-drugs raid.

“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting … (if) he resists, and it is a violent one … you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” Duterte told the police officer.

Duterte added that “murder and homicide and unlawful killings” were not allowed and that police had to uphold the rule of law while carrying out their duties.

Delos Santos was dragged by plain-clothes policemen to a dark, trash-filled alley in Manila before he was shot in the head and left next to a pigsty, according to witnesses whose accounts appeared to be backed up by CCTV footage.

Police say they acted in self defense after delos Santos opened fire on them, and Duterte’s spokesman and the justice minister have described the killing of the teenager as an “isolated” case.

U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, described the killing of delos Santos as “murder” in a tweet on Aug. 25, earning the ire of Duterte who in a separate speech on Monday called her “son of a bitch” and “stupid”.

“She should not threaten me,” Duterte said as he challenged Callamard to visit and see the situation in the Philippines.

A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte’s conditions that she must hold a debate with him. She turned up in unofficial capacity in May to address an academic conference on human rights.

 

 

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)