Afghanistan Sees Escalation In Fighting During Ramzan
THE CITIZEN BUREAU
NEW DELHI: Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint at the Salma Dam, killing ten security forces in Afghanistan’s Herat province. The dam, which has been targeted by the Taliban in the past, underwent an extensive $300 million refurbishment that was completed in 2016, being renamed as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam in light of India being the main funder.
"A group of Taliban militants attacked the checkpoint near Salma dam in Chasht district and fled after killing the policemen," a security official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani jointly inaugurated the dam in 2016, with it being a key feature of New Delhi’s efforts at expanding its soft power presence in Afghanistan.
India's Ambassador to Afghanistan Manpreet Vohra, however, told a media channel that the dam was not the target of the attack. "There have been media reports, but I want to clarify that this is not an attack on the dam. It was some distance away," Vohra said.
The attack, is the latest in a string of such attacks as Afghanistan witnesses a particularly bloody Ramadan. The attack in fact comes just days after at least 29 people were killed by a car bomb near a bank in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s troubled Helmand province where the Taliban has seen major successes in recent months. Herat province -- the site of the latest attack -- has also seen an escalation in violence. Earlier this month, at least 10 people were killed in an explosion near a mosque.
In Kabul, a deadly attack killed 150 people on May 31, when a truck loaded with explosives detonated in a fortified area of the capital city near several foreign embassies.
At the time of writing, the streets of Kabul were silent ahead of Eid, amid fears of further attacks. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Islam’s holiest month, which itself began on a violent note in Afghanistan. On May 27, as Ramadan began, a Taliban car bomber killed 13 people in Khost Province.
In the months since, over 200 people have been killed and hundreds wounded -- making this year’s Ramadan one of the bloodiest since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. On Friday, Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada issued an Eid message, in which he pledged to continue fighting till the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Foreign troops, however, are set to see an increase, as the US mulls over a formal request to increase troop count. The request is a huge indication of the failure of US policy in Afghanistan, as former President Barack Obama had pledged to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan completely by 2014. The target was repeatedly extended, and even now, more than 13000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to push ahead. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) office submitted earlier in the year notes a huge decline in the territory controlled by the American-supported Afghan government with corresponding increase in influence of the Taliban and other militant groups, including the Islamic State. In a worrying assessment, the report notes that the Afghan government had 57.2 percent of the country under its control by the end of 2016 — a 6.3 percent decrease from 2015. Reports from the ground paint an even more worrying picture, with the Taliban effectively in control of several Afghan districts.