Afghan Newspaper Hunts Corruption, but First It Has to Pay the Rent

Zaki Daryabi, the founder of Etilaat e Roz, scrolling through the day’s news one evening at his office in Kabul.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The first time Zaki Daryabi started a small newspaper in Afghanistan, it shut down within months. Mr. Daryabi, who had just graduated from university in Kabul, lost most of the money lent to him by friends to start his business.

But soon after, he restarted the newspaper, Etilaat e Roz. And now, five years later, it has found itself in the middle of some of Afghanistan’s most important national conversations.

The publication remains on financial life support. Mr. Daryabi often finds himself writing desperate grant proposals, asking creditors for a little more patience or amplifying the paper’s online presence on days when he can’t afford the $250 required to publish in print.

At the same time, though, Mr. Daryabi’s journalists churn out investigative reports that stir what has become an increasingly chaotic Afghan democracy, with its warlords and ethnic factions often needing reminders of the rules of the new game and the role of the news media in it.

The growth of the free Afghan news media is one of the biggest achievements since the toppling of the Taliban by an international coalition in 2001.

Under the Taliban, there was only the regime’s state radio and newspaper. Today, there are more than 300 radio and 200 television channels, more than 70 newspapers, and hundreds of magazines across Afghanistan.

The numbers, however, often overshadow the draining work and risks these news organizations take.

Newspapers in particular, most of which have been subsidized by donor funding over the past 15 years, face not just financial worries, but also the nagging question of whether they can really bring about change in a country where power often lies less in the constitutional order and more at the hands of strongmen and their patronage.

Coping with the political pressures, and the financial challenges, is a daily struggle.

For publishers like Mr. Daryabi, newspaper work means living a life of debt, and often making life awkward for loved ones. As his paper has published reports critical of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, Mr. Daryabi’s relationship with his father, a Ghani supporter, has become strained. His father does not understand why his son keeps embarrassing him in front of his friends.

“When I am sometimes thinking about leaving it all, it’s not about myself — it’s about my twins, and their future,” said Mr. Daryabi, the father of twin boys.

Etilaat e Roz operates out of a third-floor apartment in western Kabul, where a team of 10 starts late in the morning and works late into the night. The operation is so small that for major investigations Mr. Daryabi and his chief editor become reporters.

The paper has several distributors, on bicycle, who deliver the 3,000 copies at dawn five days a week. It relies heavily on its colorful online presence, with 300,000 subscribers to its Facebook page.

Advertisements cover only about 30 percent of the paper’s costs. Mr. Daryabi recently obtained a grant from Open Society Foundation for about $50,000, which will cover another 30 percent for the coming year.

There have been weeks when the paper hasn’t printed, simply putting the content online. During one of those stretches last year, Mr. Daryabi admits, he came closest to the lure of political money — accepting a onetime payment of $3,000 from former President Hamid Karzai’s foundation, arranged by one of his editors, who had once worked in the president’s office and told him that the paper was shutting down.

Mr. Daryabi’s team, after much internal debate, accepted the money and put it toward the rent.

The paper has conducted detailed investigations of the family networks that have controlled much of the Afghan state resources, including Mr. Karzai’s family; it devoted an entire issue to how some of these networks joined up in a scheme that took out about $900 million in reckless loans that collapsed the country’s biggest bank.

It has also investigated the sale by Mr. Ghani’s administration of a large section of prime real estate in Kabul at a dirt-cheap price to an election supporter.

Last week, the paper published a series of articles about ethnic favoritism in the presidential palace, a sensitive issue in a country that has long struggled with equality.

For months, Mr. Daryabi’s team and others had reported that Pashtuns made up the circle of people closest to Mr. Ghani’s office, marginalizing other ethnic groups in the most important conversations.

His paper found a document that was a smoking gun of sorts.

A senior employee of Mr. Ghani’s administrative office had shared a memo on an internal Telegram channel, highlighting how members of other ethnicities should be sidelined in favor of Pashtuns. Within minutes, the employee had written in the group again: “wrong channel.”

It was too late. The memo was leaked to the news media, and Mr. Daryabi’s team picked on it, carefully documenting every step of their reporting, and knowing that the authenticity of a document on an explosive issue like ethnic prejudice would be questioned.

The articles set off a week of intense debates across Afghan television channels and newspapers, and particularly on social media, where many lashed out at Mr. Daryabi and his paper.

Daud Noorzai, the new head of Mr. Ghani’s administrative office, insisted that the memo was the work of one individual and did not reflect the deeper thinking of the office he was leading. But that did not ease concerns about rot in the system.

Mr. Ghani, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly at the time, ordered his attorney general to conduct an inquiry.

To Mr. Daryabi and his team, Mr. Noorzai’s acknowledgment of the problem and Mr. Ghani’s promise of accountability were a much needed victory during another difficult stretch when they had been contemplating shutting their enterprise down.

“In an environment where being branded and stamped as partisan is so common, we want our newspaper to stand for one thing: a newspaper,” said Khalil Pajhwok, the chief editor. “We are after earning trust as a professional media that doesn’t take sides, and that means we have to do trustworthy work, without censorship, that is factual.”

Mr. Daryabi was raised in a village in Jaghori, an enigma district of sorts that has a robust culture of books and ideas in an otherwise restive Ghazni Province. He is 31, based on the date his father scribbled on the back of the family’s copy of the Quran.

Or he is 28, based on how old the district governor thought he looked when he signed Mr. Daryabi’s ID card and officially registered his age when he began his university studies in Kabul.

As a student of political science, Mr. Daryabi started writing articles for a local newspaper, getting paid about $5 a piece. After graduation, he cobbled together about $16,000 from friends and family to start Etilaat e Roz, which in its first incarnation largely focused on entertainment.

After it closed, Mr. Daryabi, who does not speak much English, was called by a printing house to lead an English paper started primarily to make money from advertisements. Mr. Daryabi took the job on the condition that he could use the company’s resources to restart Etilaat e Roz. They had a deal.

After a year of running two newspapers, he could afford to work full-time on Etilaat e Roz, which now focused on politics.

Mr. Daryabi said that in those days, in 2012, there was more optimism about the country’s future and the media’s role in it.

But the difficult years since — with a messy election that threatened to break the country apart, a violent Taliban onslaught and his paper’s financial issues — have not beaten him down completely, he said.

“The raw material for a democracy is still there,” he said.

(The New York Times)

Red Cross to ‘Drastically’ Cut Afghan Operations After Attacks

Afghan men unload a coffin of killed ICRC employee from a car at a hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif

Kabul- The International Committee of the Red Cross will “drastically” reduce operations in war-torn Afghanistan after seven of its employees were killed in attacks this year, the aid group said on Monday.

The announcement underlines the deteriorating security for aid groups in Afghanistan, where the ICRC has been operating for more than 30 years and has been running its fourth biggest humanitarian program.

“Exposure to risk has become our greatest challenge and concern,” Monica Zanarelli, head of the ICRC in Afghanistan, told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

“We have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence in Afghanistan,” she said, adding that the decision would particularly affect operations in the north, where facilities in Kunduz, Faryab, and Balkh provinces would be closed or downsized.

Red Cross officials said the assessments are ongoing and could not say how many of its 1,800 staff would be affected.

The humanitarian group will close its facilities in the northern city of Maimana, the capital of Faryab province, and in Kunduz province, also in the north and a hotbed of Taliban activity.

Operations in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif will be scaled back.

The group has suffered a series of deadly attacks in northern Afghanistan, where Taliban and ISIS group militants have intensified their assaults on police and troops.

In February six ICRC employees were killed when their convoy came under insurgent attack in the northern province of Jowzjan.

Two of their colleagues were abducted in a separate incident and only released by their captors last month.

No group claimed responsibility for the abduction or killings, but Jowzjan police have blamed local ISIS jihadists who are making inroads in the country.

In the most recent attack, a Spanish physiotherapist working for the ICRC in northern Afghanistan last month was shot and killed by a wheelchair-bound patient.

Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, was shot inside the aid group’s rehabilitation center in Mazar-i-Sharif, where she treated disabled children, women and men including amputees.

Two people were arrested over the deadly attack, including the 21-year-old shooter whom police said was a “regular patient”.

Last December a Spanish Red Cross employee was abducted when workers from the charity were traveling between Mazar-i-Sharif and neighboring Kunduz. He was released several weeks later.

The ICRC has around 1,800 staff including 120 international aid workers in Afghanistan — helping wounded and disabled people, supporting hospitals, making prison visits and assisting prisoners to maintain contact with their families.

In many areas such as the north, they are the only international organization providing such services.

“We understand the consequences to stop our activities in the north but we have no choice,” Zanarelli added.

She said the organization was not leaving Afghanistan but to prevent more losses the “necessity of reviewing our presence is strongly requested”.

The spreading conflict has combined with an increase in criminality, making for more “blurred lines” between the various armed groups which complicate efforts to safely provide aid, Zanarelli said.

“I would say there are more gray areas than there were in the past, and this is certainly what is affecting our capacity to assess our security,” she said.

According to US military estimates, the government controls no more than 60 percent of the country, with the rest either controlled or contested by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

US Expands Kabul Security Zone

Kabul- Soon, American Embassy employees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chinook helicopter ride to cross the street to a military base less than 100 yards outside the present Green Zone security district.

Instead, the boundaries of the Green Zone will be redrawn to include that base, known as the Kabul City Compound, formerly the headquarters for American Special Operations forces in the capital. The zone is separated from the rest of the city by a network of police, military and private security checkpoints.

The expansion is part of a huge public works project that over the next two years will reshape the center of this city of five million to bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and American military headquarters within the protected area.

After 16 years of American presence in Kabul, it is a stark acknowledgment that even the city’s central districts have become too difficult to defend from Taliban bombings.

But the capital project is also clearly taking place to protect another long-term American investment: Along with an increase in troops to a reported 15,000, from around 11,000 at the moment, the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan is likely to keep the military in place well into the 2020s, even by the most conservative estimates.

No one wants to say when any final pullout will take place, because the emphasis now is on a conditions-based withdrawal — presumably meaning after the Afghan government can handle the war alone. But President Trump has kept secret the details of those conditions, and how they are defined.

“Until he says what the conditions are, all that means is we’ll be there as long as we want, for whatever reason we want,” said Barnett Rubin, a longtime Afghanistan expert who advised the Obama administration. “And they don’t have to lie to do that, because the conditions will never be good enough to say we’re absolutely not needed.”

In practical terms, it means that the American military mission will continue for many more years, despite its unpopularity with the American public. Many military strategists, in America and Afghanistan, have already penciled in plans well into the ’20s, and certainly past any Trump re-election campaign.

At the NATO summit meeting in Warsaw last year, the allies, including the United States, agreed to fund the development of the Afghan security forces until the end of what was termed “the transition decade,” meaning from 2014, when Afghan forces began to take charge of their own security, until 2024.

“I would guess the US has to plan on being inside Afghanistan for a decade or more in order for there to be any type of resolution,” said Bill Roggio, editor of Long War Journal. “It’s definitely past his first term in office, no two ways about it.”

The Green Zone expansion is aimed at making it possible for America and its NATO allies to remain in the capital without facing the risks that have in the past year made Kabul the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, with more people killed there than anywhere else in the country — mostly from suicide bombers.

Kabul’s security area had long been a Green Zone-lite compared with its fortresslike predecessor in Baghdad, where there are massive blast walls and a total separation from the general population, enforced by biometric entry passes.

In Kabul, thousands of Afghans still commute to jobs and even schools inside the zone, with only light searches for most of them, mindful of the resentment stirred by the Soviets’ heavily militarized central zone during their Afghan occupation. And the Green Zone in Baghdad has, its critics maintain, created an out-of-touch ruling class and Western community, and provided a magnet for protests while just moving enormous bombings elsewhere, further stoking popular discontent with leaders and foreigners.

The Kabul Green Zone expansion, which will significantly restrict access, was prompted, according to both Afghan and American military officials, by a huge suicide bomb planted in a sewage truck that exploded at a gate of the current Green Zone on May 31, destroying most of the German Embassy and killing more than 150 people. The loss of life could have been far worse, but Germany had evacuated its embassy a week before the bombing, apparently tipped off by intelligence sources.

The military recently appointed an American brigadier general to take charge of greatly expanding and fortifying the Green Zone. In the first stage of the project, expected to take from six months to a year, an expanded Green Zone will be created — covering about 1.86 square miles, up from 0.71 square miles — closing off streets within it to all but official traffic.

Because that will also cut two major arteries through the city, in an area where traffic congestion is already rage-inducing for Afghan drivers, the plans call for building a ring road on the northern side of the Wazir Akbar Khan hill to carry traffic around the new Green Zone.

In a final stage, a still bigger Blue Zone will be established, encompassing most of the city center, where severe restrictions on movement — especially by trucks — will be put in place. Already, height restriction barriers have been built over roads throughout Kabul to block trucks. Eventually, all trucks seeking to enter Kabul will be routed through a single portal, where they will be X-rayed and searched.

The New York Times

5 Killed in Suicide Bombing near US Embassy in Afghan Capital

Taliban

At least five people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide bombing at a bank in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Eight people were wounded in the blast at a Kabul Bank branch that is close to the heavily protected US embassy, the Interior Ministry announced.

At the site of the blast, debris and twisted metal lay scattered on the pavement. The front side of the Kabul Bank was completely shattered and there was much damage to the fronts of several adjacent businesses. A charred motorcycle with its parts mangled lay on the street.

Mohammad Salim Rasouli, chief of Kabul hospitals at the Health Ministry said nine people were wounded in the attack. He warned that those were only initial reports and that the casualty toll could rise further.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as banks were busy with people taking out money ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday at the end of the week, saying it had targeted soldiers and police withdrawing their salaries.

Attacks on banks where soldiers and police withdraw their salaries have become a regular tactic of the Taliban and the movement’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said several members of the security forces had been killed. There was no confirmation from the government.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government, facing growing public anger over insecurity in Kabul, has started tightening checks around the center of the city, where many of the most deadly attacks have taken place.

Tuesday’s attack is the latest in a long series of suicide attacks in Kabul highlight the danger in the city, where 209 civilians were killed and 777 injured in the first half of the year, according to UN figures.

In another development, at least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed in an overnight airstrike by Afghan security forces that targeted the Taliban in western Herat province, according to Gelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Farhad told The Associated Press that the Monday night strike in Shindand district also wounded seven civilians. A Taliban base and a prison run by the insurgents were targeted, he said. The prison was destroyed and 19 prisoners — both military and civilians escaped. The civilians who were killed died in their homes just next to the Taliban base, he added.

According to the spokesman, the airstrikes also killed 16 Taliban militants. The Taliban have not commented on the Herat attack and Farhad’s information could not be independently verified.

The Taliban, fighting to drive out international forces backing the government in Kabul, have carried out many of the attacks. Other militant groups, including the affiliated Haqqani network and the local branch of ISIS, have carried out others.

Death Toll from ISIS Attack on Kabul Mosque Rises, Victims Buried

The number of people killed in an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul during Friday prayers rose to at least 28 up from 20, the chief of Kabul’s hospitals said Saturday as hundreds of mourners buried the victims.

Distraught relatives and friends carried coffins into the cemetery one by one.

Mohammad Salim Rasouli said more than 50 others were wounded in the attack a day earlier that went on for hours.

Two assailants blew themselves up and another two were shot to death by Afghan security forces, according to police official Mohammed Sadique Muradi.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest to target Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ites.

The organization said in a statement on the website of its Aamaq news agency that it had deployed two attackers to the mosque. There was no immediate explanation for the contradictory number of attackers.

The Taliban condemned the violence, with a spokesman for the militants, Zabihullah Mujahid, telling The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the group had nothing to do with it.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence and said the militants were turning to attacking places of worship because they were losing on the battlefield. He urged clerics everywhere to condemn the bloodshed.

Security forces had surrounded the mosque in the northern Kabul neighborhood but did not initially enter to prevent further casualties to the many worshipers inside, police official Mohammed Jamil said. Later, as police tried to advance, one of the attackers set off an explosion that forced them to withdraw, Muradi said.

The cleric who was performing the prayers was among the dead, said Mir Hussain Nasiri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shi’ite clerical council.

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Attack near Iraqi Embassy in Kabul

Kabul

The ISIS terrorist group claimed responsibility for an attack near the Iraqi embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday.

A security source told AFP that a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside the Iraqi embassy. “Civilians are being evacuated” from the area as the attack is ongoing, said the official, who declined to be named.

“Our forces are inside and a clearance operation is underway,” said Afghan interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, adding that embassy personnel were safe, although embassy guards and nearby civilians might have suffered casualties.

There were conflicting reports of casualties as the attack unfolded, with a witness at the scene saying he saw bodies of at least two policemen lying on the road outside the embassy soon after the attack began.

A series of explosions and the sound of gunfire shook the capital in a continuing assault, which lasted four hours.

At least four explosions, along with the sounds of gunfire and grenades, were heard near the city’s diplomatic quarter shortly after 11:00 am (0630 GMT).

Security forces rapidly descended on the area and the sirens of ambulances rushing to the scene could also be heard. A column of smoke rose from the blast site. Police confirmed at least one blast but said they did not immediately have further information.

ISIS’s propaganda agency Amaq said two attackers had blown up the gate, killing seven guards, and two fighters had broken into the compound. Danish put the number of gunmen in the building at three. The terrorist group often exaggerates its claims on the number of casualties inflicted.

“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana.

“I heard a big blast followed by several explosions and small gunfire,” said Ahmad Ali, a nearby shopkeeper.

“People were worried and closed their shops to run for safety. The roads are still blocked by security forces.”

The Iraq embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.

By comparison, the Iraqi embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses.

After Iraqi forces, backed by a US-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from ISIS earlier in July, the Iraq embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local ISIS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the terror group’s losses in Iraq.

The group has been expanding its footprint in eastern Afghanistan and claimed responsibility for several devastating attacks in Kabul.

Monday’s attack is the latest to rock Kabul, and comes as the resurgent Taliban intensify their offensive across the country.

Last week, at least 35 people were killed in a Taliban suicide attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines the precarious security in Afghanistan as the US administration considers an overhaul of its policy in the region.

The US is considering whether to send thousands more troops to help the beleaguered Afghan forces as the war-weary country is gripped by increasing insecurity.

Dozens Killed in Kabul Car Bombing Claimed by Taliban

At least 35 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded after a Taliban suicide attacker detonated a car bomb, targeting government employees in western Kabul Monday, an official said, the latest attack to strike the Afghan capital.

“The car bomb hit a bus carrying employees of the ministry of mines during rush hour,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Agence France Presse.

Police cordoned off the area, located near the house of the deputy government Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet claiming responsibility for the attack the target had been two buses that had been under surveillance for two months.

Kabul is regularly rocked by suicide bombs and attacks. A recent UN report showed they accounted for nearly one-fifth of all civilian Afghan casualties in the first half of 2017.

A small bus owned by the Ministry of Mines had been destroyed, government security sources said.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has been documenting civilian casualties since 2009, said in its recent report that 1,662 civilians were killed and more than 3,500 injured in the first six months of the year. 

Many of those deaths happened in a devastating single attack in Kabul in late May when a truck bomb exploded, also during the morning rush hour, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds.

UNAMA put the civilian death toll at 92, saying it was the deadliest incident to hit the country since 2001.

The bloody toll for the first six months of 2017 has unsettled the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who has come under increasing pressure since the May attack in Kabul.

Protests and deadly street clashes hit the Afghan capital in the wake of the May attack as people incensed by security failures called for his government’s resignation. 

Kabul’s American University Facing New Threats

Kabul- In late March, students at the American University of Afghanistan returned to a new main campus — fortified by 19-foot-high concrete walls — after a devastating terrorist attack last year that left 15 dead, including seven students.

But the reality of life in the country’s increasingly violent capital soon intruded: One of the school’s adjunct professors and a graduate were killed May 31 when a truck bomb detonated in central Kabul, killing more than 150 people.

In the political recrimination that followed, the Taliban issued a new threat targeting the safety of their Western hostages — including two professors taken at gunpoint outside the school last August. The university administration again called for their safe release.

Teachers and students say they are determined to carry on despite the threats to the college, founded in 2006 to provide an American-style liberal arts education to Afghans. The school is heavily subsidized by US taxpayers, with the US government funding 70 percent of its costs — just over $20 million this year.

“We haven’t closed, we haven’t stopped educating,” said David S. Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia who spent nine months as acting president of the school and revamped its security. “But we do watch things very carefully. But right now on balance, it’s the right thing to do to continue operations.”

The school’s rebirth comes at a time when the security situation in Afghanistan is worsening, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis telling a Senate committee this week that the enemy is “surging” and that the United States is “not winning in Afghanistan right now.” Fresh troops may arrive, but the Trump Administration is also proposing steep cuts to international aid.

The school had 50 students when it opened more than a decade ago, an Afghan-chartered institution funded by the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank and others. Former first lady Laura Bush was a staunch supporter early on and has remained so, Sedney said.

By 2011, the college had its first graduating class of more than 100 students and now awards undergraduate degrees in a variety of fields as well as a master’s in business administration.

The school’s old campus, built on the grounds of a shuttered international school, became an “oasis” of learning in a war-torn country where male and female students mingled freely — unusual in a deeply conservative Muslim society — in classrooms led by Americans and international teachers.

As its prestige grew, the university attracted other, unwanted attention — from the Taliban. In a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network published shortly after the August attack, analyst Borhan Osman wrote that the Taliban had long written about the school in its literature in books and online, portraying it as “a key center of US efforts to stop the emergence of an Islamic government in Afghanistan.” The militants called the school “Kabul’s Christian University” and said it promoted moral corruption through co-ed classes.

The terrorists first struck on Aug. 7, 2016, abducting the two professors from their car just outside the school. The men — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — later appeared, gaunt and tearful, in a hostage video. Officials say they are being held with other Westerners by the Haqqani wing of the Taliban.

Then, on Aug. 24, suicide attackers detonated a car bomb outside the university wall, ­entered the campus and hunted down and shot fleeing student and teachers, as others barricaded themselves in classrooms.


The Washington Post

Haqqani Network Denies Role in Latest Terror Attacks on Afghanistan

Pakistan

Kabul – The head of the Haqqani network has denied insurgents’ involvement in recent bloody attacks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban-allied Haqqani network for the deadly bombing in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter which left more than 150 people dead.

The attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2001.

The Taliban disavowed any responsibility with Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani repeating the denial in an audio message posted on the group’s website on Sunday.

“We have already condemned the [attacks]. The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is not behind them,” he said.

A day later, at least seven people were killed when suicide bombers sneaked through a row of mourners who were attending the funeral of one of the protesters.

The statements ruling out any Taliban hand in the bombings have fallen on sceptical ears in Kabul.

“Despite the Taliban’s categorical denial, the attack bears all the hallmarks of the movement,” Borhan Osman of the Afghanistan Analysts Network stated.

“The movement’s operational capacity and logistical access to plan and execute such a bombing is beyond question.”

Since the Kabul lorry bombing, protesters have set up sit-in camps in at least six locations around the capital, including one near the bombing site, demanding the resignation of president Ashraf Ghani’s government.

In an apparent effort to appease the protesters, the Afghan government on Sunday sacked two top security officials including Kabul police chief over the killing of demonstrators on June 2.

As many as three Afghan civilians have been killed when American troops opened fire after their vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

A man and his two sons were killed at their home in Ghani Khel, a district in the south of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

“After the bomb blast hit them, the American forces then started shooting and killed one man and two children nearby,” he said.

The US military command in Kabul said it was investigating the reports.

Civilian casualties have run at near record highs as fighting spreads to more areas of Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani generally has been less vocal than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, in publicly criticising the US military when troops are involved in incidents where civilians are killed.

On Saturday, three American soldiers were killed and one wounded when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in Nangarhar, where elite US troops have been helping Afghan forces battle Islamic State militants.

Afghanistan President: More than 150 Killed in Last Week’s Kabul Blast

Ghani

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that the death toll from last week’s truck bombing in the capital Kabul has reached to over 150.

He said during a peace conference in the city that more than 300 people were wounded in the attack.

The blast occurred when a sewage truck packed with what Ghani called “military-grade” explosives detonated at the entrance to a fortified area of that city that includes foreign embassies and government buildings.

The new death toll makes it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“We were not the only targets, the entire diplomatic community was the target of this attack,” Ghani told foreign diplomats gathered for the conference.

Previous official estimates had put the death toll at about 90, with more than 460 wounded.

All of those killed were Afghans, and Ghani paid specific homage to 13 policemen who stopped the truck as it tried to enter the fortified district and were killed in the blast.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which sparked violent anti-government protests.

Several protesters were killed in clashes with police on Friday, and at least a dozen people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the funeral for one of the dead protesters on Saturday.

On Monday, Ghani’s main government partner said his national security adviser and other top security officials should be removed in wake of last week’s violence.

“There is a big problem with the heads of the security institutions,” said Salahuddin Rabbani, foreign minister and head of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan, the party behind Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. “They should be removed.”

Ghani has appealed for unity and promised an investigation into the actions of police who fired on protesters.

But the violence of the past days and the outburst of public anger over security failures has ratcheted up tensions in the government, which has been under increasing strain over the past few months as security has deteriorated.

The tensions, which have worsened in the absence of a clear direction from Washington, have complicated the situation facing US President Donald Trump’s administration as it works out its policy approach to Afghanistan.

Built on a US-brokered agreement between the former rivals Ghani and Abdullah after the disputed election of 2014, the partners in Afghanistan’s National Unity Government have been at odds since the start.

Abdullah’s mainly Tajik Jamiat party has felt betrayed by the way what they understood as a power sharing accord has produced a government dominated by Ghani and other powerful Pashtuns such as National Security Adviser Atmar.