Kabul: A bomb hidden in an ambulance killed at least 95 people and wounded almost 160 more in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday when it blew up at a police checkpoint that was crowded with pedestrians at the time of the attack.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, a week after they claimed an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in which more than 20 people were killed.
An interior ministry spokesman blamed the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban that Afghan and Western officials say is behind many of the largest attacks on urban targets in Afghanistan.
As medical teams struggled to handle the casualties pouring in, some of the wounded were laid out in the open, with intravenous drips set up next to them in hospital gardens.
“It’s a massacre,” said Dejan Panic, coordinator in Afghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma hospital that treated dozens of wounded.Hours after the blast, a health ministry spokesman said the casualty toll had risen to at least 95 killed and 158 wounded.
The latest attack will add pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his US allies, who have expressed growing confidence that a new more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban insurgents back from major provincial centres.”Today’s attack is nothing short of an atrocity, and those who have organised and enabled it must be brought to justice and held to account,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
The United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and increased its air strikes against the Taliban and other militant groups, aiming to break a stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.However, the Taliban have dismissed suggestions they have been weakened by the new strategy, and the past week has shown their capacity to mount deadly, high-profile attacks is undiminished, even in the heavily protected centre of Kabul.The US-led international force in Afghanistan vowed ongoing support for the Afghan government and armed forces in their “difficult and dangerous work”, adding that none of its members had been killed or wounded in the blast.
Checkpoint busy with pedestrians Saturday is a working day in Afghanistan and the streets were full when the blast went off at around lunchtime in a busy part of the city close to shops and markets and near a number of foreign embassies and government buildings.Mirwais Yasini, a member of Parliament who was nearby when the explosion occurred, said an ambulance approached the checkpoint and blew up.The target was apparently an interior ministry building but the victims were mainly people who happened to be nearby.Buildings hundreds of metres away were shaken by the force of the blast, which left torn bodies strewn on the street amid piles of rubble, debris and wrecked cars.
The casualty toll is the worst since 150 people were killed in a truck bomb explosion last May near the German embassy, an attack that prompted a major reinforcement of security aimed at preventing similar vehicle-borne attacks.With much of central Kabul now a heavily fortified zone with high concrete blast walls and police checkpoints, there were angry questions about how the bomber had been able to get through.”Officials must be held responsible,” said former deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi.People helped walking-wounded away as ambulances with sirens wailing inched their way through the traffic-clogged streets of the city centre.”I was sitting in the office when the explosion went off,” said Alam, an office worker whose head was badly cut in the blast.”All the windows shattered, the building collapsed and everything came down.”
The Swedish and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union mission and an Indian consular office are also nearby but there were no reports that any of their staff had been hurt in the attack.
A spokeswoman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said no Australians were known to be injured or killed.”The Australian Embassy in Kabul is closely monitoring reports of an explosion earlier today in Kabul, and is not aware, at this stage, of any Australians having been affected,” she said.”Afghanistan remains classified as ‘Do not travel’ on Smartraveller.
Viet Cong bullets pinged off the Cold Spring Granite in the lobby of the new U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
It was Jan. 31, 1968, and 20-year-old Sgt. Ronald Harper, a Central Minnesota native, could hear the voices of enemy combatants seeking to break into the building with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles.
Dust and smoke filled the air that first night of the Tet Offensive, a key moment in the Vietnam War marked by Viet Cong attacks throughout U.S.-backed South Vietnam.
Five Americans and 19 of 20 Viet Cong guerrillas died in the fight at the Embassy. Harper earned a Bronze Star for his service.
Historians describe the Embassy attack and entire Tet Offensive as a turning point in favor of the North Vietnamese and against America. It showed the war was far from over. Amid growing anti-war sentiment, President Lyndon B. Johnson just two months later would call for talks to end the war and announce he would not seek re-election.
Now, 50 years after that attack, Harper runs his own business, Quality Appliance & TV Center, in Waite Park.He thinks regularly of that long night in Vietnam.
He remembers the comfort of a mid-fight cigarette provided by the Embassy’s Vietnamese night watchman after Harper pulled him from the fray. And he remembers the Americans who died at the Embassy.
“When my son went to Iraq (in 2009), it was on my mind daily,” Harper said, choking up.
The veteran, now 70, went on to have nine children with his wife, Cathy. The son who served in Iraq, Harper said, “he’ll be my successor at the store.”
Harper smiles easily as he talks about his work, family, and life in the military and after it. He grew up in Cambridge, an hour east of St. Cloud and an hour north of the Twin Cities.
Harper joined the Marines in 1965. His friend came to visit for Harper’s birthday and suggested they enlist together.
Harper then became part of the elite Marine Security Guard, whose members have guarded U.S. Embassies worldwide for 70 years. Harper chose the Vietnam Embassy amid the war.
“I felt it was my duty,” Harper said. “I was always very patriotic. It was in my heart all my life. I loved my country. I still do.”
He held the keys to the Embassy in Saigon on Jan. 31, 1968 — 50 years ago come Wednesday. He was delivering a round of coffees to fellow servicemen on the night shift, and he was caught a few hundred yards away when Viet Cong soldiers blew through an exterior wall.
“The sky just lit up in a big explosion,” Harper said.
Harper made it back to the Embassy to lock the doors, thanks to two military police officers. They fought and died there.
Harper first secured the rear doors. At the front, teak doors, he pulled in the Vietnamese staffer. A rocket injured the other Marine security guard who was bleeding profusely.
“I wrapped him up like a mummy, but I couldn’t get him to be quiet,” Harper said. He could hear Viet Cong fighters within 10 feet.
Instructions came and Harper was ordered to double-check the doors. Harper found the watchman in the lobby and pulled him back again.
The guard offered Harper a cigarette then, a relief for the Marine who didn’t bring his own smokes that night. Harper wasn’t even supposed to work that shift because a doctor had treated him for lung-tissue inflammation called pleurisy the day prior.
The fight continued for hours outside the Embassy, and Harper kept four civilians safe in the building.
“You’re tense,” Harper said of the six-hour skirmish. “You didn’t know what was going to happen in the next minute.”
Daylight brought the “best feeling” after Harper listened to fire all night. After 8 a.m., American forces broke through the front gate and opened fire again, Harper said.
“Here I am safe, and now they’re shooting at me,” he said with a laugh.
Harper didn’t go to bed for two days after the attack, he said. He was in shock and had some shrapnel injuries he didn’t notice at first. “The adrenaline was so high.”
The Tet Offensive prolonged his stay in Vietnam by three months. And it marked a shift in the war.
John Decker, an associate archivist at Stearns History Museum, lived through that change and served as a Navy Hospital corpsman in Japan from 1970 to 1972.
“It changed what people thought of the war,” Decker said. “We came back and we weren’t really welcomed.”
In the whole of the Vietnam war, Stearns County military casualties reached about 37.
Decker lost friends, classmates and two cousins. “We miss every one of those guys,” he said.
The U.S. lost over 16,000 troops in 1968, Decker said.
In mid-1968 Harper’s term in Vietnam ended. He went on to guard the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
When he returned to Central Minnesota, Harper worked in retail then opened his appliance store. That was 40 years ago.
Looking back on his service in Vietnam, Harper feels the U.S. did the right thing.
“I was in a different part of the world than the guys in the field. I didn’t meet a Vietnamese person I didn’t like. And I didn’t meet a Vietnamese person who didn’t like me,” Harper said. “In my mind, they were worth fighting for.”
Nora G. Hertel: 320-255-8746 and on Twitter @nghertel.
Investigations are ongoing into a recent disturbance at Turkey’s Dublin Embassy by a group of PYD/PKK terrorist organization sympathizers, Irish police confirmed Thursday.
The group of up to 40 individuals carrying the terrorist group’s rags, reportedly gathered around the embassy building at Raglan Road on Wednesday and tried to forcibly enter its garden but were prevented by the security guards.
“Gardai [Irish police] were called to an incident outside The Turkish Embassy situated at Raglan Road and Eglin Road, Dublin 4 on Wednesday the 24th of January 2018,” Irish police told Anadolu Agency.
The statement added there were 30-40 people involved in the “protest” and “investigations into this matter are ongoing and no arrests have been made at this time”.
The group left the scene after Irish police took security measures around the embassy building.
PYD/PKK is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU.
The PKK has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, leading to the deaths of more than 40,000 security forces and civilians.
It seems as though it is an undisputed truth that U.S. soldiers are the bravest members of society. After all, they risk their own lives to defend the nation from foreign threats. There is also another group of people who do this work, but with the intention of avoiding violence: diplomats.
It is nearly impossible to estimate the number of lives that diplomats have saved by doing their jobs. Without their tireless efforts, landmark peace agreements would never have been reached and tense conflicts could have ended with violence. It is their duty to find a non-violent solution to conflicts, and though they get little credit, as demonstrated by criticism of agreements such as the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty, it is reasonable to assume that their work has prevented a great deal of bloodshed.
Unfortunately, for all they do to try to avoid violence, there comes a certain amount of danger. The State Department published a report in 2017 of notable attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel and facilities from 2007 to 2016. In 2016 alone, there were 30 reported attacks, ranging from spray-painting anti-U.S. graffiti outside the consulate in France to two U.S. consulate personnel being killed by an explosion in Pakistan. Currently, the State Department is investigating sonic attacks on the U.S. embassy in Havana.
Perhaps the most widely known attack on U.S. diplomats is the raid of the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi. Two U.S. diplomats were killed, including the ambassador to Libya, as well as two military personnel. While this attack has become incredibly politicized due to the ridiculous number of committees that were formed to investigate if the U.S. government had been at all negligent, it is worth mentioning that this was not the first attack on the U.S. Special Mission that year. In June of 2012, the mission was hit with an explosion, putting a hole in the outer wall. The year before, there had been two other attacks on the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. Despite the obvious danger, diplomats representing the U.S. believed peace negotiations to be worth risking their lives for.
“Seasoned diplomats are leaving the State Department in droves, with dire warnings about the future of American diplomacy.”
Now, it appears as though times have changed. Seasoned diplomats are leaving the State Department in droves, with dire warnings about the future of American diplomacy. The Trump administration seems intent on undermining any attempts at using peaceful negotiations to solve conflicts. In 2017, the White House proposed a budget for the State Department that would cut into its ability to function as usual, with a decrease in funding by over 30 percent.
President Trump and his associates have described this as an “America First” budget, but domestic programs are being cut in favor of increased military spending. Even fellow Republicans expressed dismay over the proposal, with Sen. Bob Corker not even reading the entirety of the plan and Sen. Lindsey Graham saying, “It’s going to put lives at risk.”
The Trump administration does not seem to value the important work done by the State Department, and this may prove to be disastrous. President Trump has constantly expressed his support for the work that the military does in defending the country, but he has remained relatively silent on the important work that it does to avoid resorting to military force. For somebody who has said that he loves the troops, one would think that the president would do anything within his power to protect said, troops.
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
To make this even worse, it seems as though the current Secretary of State has little regard for maintaining his department. Since Rex Tillerson took the reins at the State Department, there has been a mass exodus of seasoned diplomats, with Tillerson seeking advice from a closed group of advisers with little to no practical experience.
There could not be a worse time for this sort of debacle, as the U.S. and North Korea inch closer to war and the Trump administration has made the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. To make matters even worse, some critical positions have not been filled, such as ambassador to South Korea, and the State Department is operating under a partial hiring freeze.
Also, the State Department must have a reliable Secretary of State to perform its duties. Secretary Tillerson’s role is to act as an intermediary between foreign leaders and President Trump, but his credibility has taken a beating recently as rumors of his possibly imminent firing continue to persist months after it was reported that he called the president a “f—ing moron.” Without a functional working relationship, countries will not be able to rely on the Secretary of State, as he may not truly represent the current positions or beliefs of the administration, rendering the Secretary useless in any sort of negotiations.
It is clear that this president and his administration have little respect for the courageous and hardworking diplomats who sometimes even put their lives at risk for the sake of their country. The Trump administration, however inept its actions may be, does reflect the common lack of understanding of the important duties of the State Department that society holds. If there is to be any change in how the State Department and its workers are treated, then society must finally give diplomats not only the credit, but also the respect that they are due.
AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said on Thursday that Israel had formally apologized for the deaths of two of its citizens killed by an Israeli security guard last July in an incident that soured ties and led to the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman, state media said.
Government spokesman Mohammad al Momani was quoted by state news agency Petra as saying the Israeli foreign ministry had sent a memorandum expressing “deep regrets and apologies” over the incident at the embassy and pledging to take legal action in the case.
Jordan had said it would not allow Israel to reopen its embassy in Amman until it launched legal proceedings against the security guard.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said on Thursday that the embassy in Amman would resume full operations immediately.
The handling of the shooting had tested ties between Israel and Jordan, one of only two Arab states that has a peace treaty with Israel. The two have a long history of close security ties.
The embassy was closed shortly after Israel hastily repatriated the guard under diplomatic immunity to prevent Jordanian authorities interrogating him and taking any legal action against him. The Israeli ambassador and embassy staff were pulled out.
Jordan maintained that even if the guard had diplomatic immunity that did not mean he could not be punished.
Israel has now pledged to “implement and follow up legal measures” in the case and also take action in the shooting of an unarmed Jordanian judge by an Israeli soldier in an incident in 2014, Momani said.
Israel would pay compensation to the three families, he said.
Israel said at the time the armed guard opened fire after being attacked and lightly wounded by the workman, who was delivering furniture at his home within the embassy compound and acted in self-defense in what Israeli officials called a “terrorist attack”.
Israel then said it was highly unlikely it would prosecute the security guard.
Jordanian officials have treated the shooting as a criminal case and say the two unarmed Jordanians – the other was a bystander – were killed in cold blood by the armed guard.
LONDON | President Donald Trump has cancelled a trip to London to open the new $1 billion U.S. Embassy in the British capital, a move that avoided protests promised by political opponents.
Some U.K. lawmakers had said Trump was not welcome in Britain after he re-tweeted videos from a far-right British group and criticized London Mayor Sadiq Khan following a terror attack last year.
But Trump said his decision, announced in a late-night tweet, was due to concerns about the embassy’s move from the elite Mayfair district to a far less fashionable area of London south of the Thames River.
“Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!” Trump tweeted.
The State Department, however, announced plans for relocating the London embassy in 2008, while George W. Bush was still president, because of concerns about security following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
At the time, U.S. Ambassador Robert Tuttle said the decision to move to the five-acre site came after a “long and careful process.”
While the former embassy was on Grosvenor Square, in a tony area of designer boutiques and expensive restaurants, the new building is in a former industrial area south of the Thames that is being redeveloped into a new commercial and residential district.
The current ambassador, Robert “Woody” Johnson, said the change was necessary even though the U.S. had been linked to Grosvenor Square for more than 200 years.
“Security concerns after September 11 meant we had to move to a location that could better protect American citizens and our British neighbors,” he wrote in an article for London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
Johnson, a Trump appointee, also said the new embassy was entirely paid for by the sale of other London properties and “did not cost the U.S. taxpayer a cent.”
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The British embassy in Kabul will be relocated to a high-security zone amid rising violence, it is understood. There are concerns that the compound is vulnerable to a bomb attack following an uptick in Taliban activity.
Sir Nicholas Kay, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, has been in talks with senior members of the Afghan government including President Ashraf Ghani about finding a new location for the embassy, The Times reports. An old Afghan ministry for transport, situated on the other side of the ‘green zone’ and close to the US embassy, is thought to be the most likely choice.
The relocation comes after a lorry bomb, laden with 10 tons of explosives, detonated close to the German embassy in May last year. Some 90 people – mainly civilians – were killed, and hundreds more were injured. The German compound was also damaged. The atrocity has been blamed on the Haqqani network – militants linked to the Taliban and backed by Pakistani security forces.
There has been increasing violence by terrorist groups. In the latest carnage, a suicide bomb claimed by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) killed more than 40 people on Thursday at a compound in the west of the capital, which houses an Afghan news agency.
The British embassy is a heavily fortified block of offices on the edge of the ‘green zone’ in Kabul’s Wazir Ahkbar Khan district. Hundreds of diplomats, military personnel and Afghan employees work there.
The heightened security threat has led to the withdrawal of some British officials. The total number of staff has also shrunk in recent years in line with a reduction in the number combat troops, and a formal end of military operations by British and other regular NATO forces in 2014.
It is understood that Britain has been reviewing options for a new site for some time. It is not clear how much the relocation will cost.
Egypt’s military court on Monday handed down a death sentence to one individual and life imprisonment sentences to four others over their involvement in a 2015 attack on the Embassy of Niger in Cairo.
It also handed ten- and five-year prison terms to 12 and five defendants in the case, respectively.
The court also acquitted eight defendants, who can appeal the sentences.
The case dates back to July 2015, when gunmen opened fire at security forces outside the Embassy of Niger on Haram Street in Giza, killing a police conscript and injuring two low-ranking policemen as well as a embassy employee.
According to investigations conducted by the High State Security Prosecution, the defendants attacked the embassy to publicly declare the presence of the Daesh terrorist organization in the Egyptian capital, with the prosecution adding that the defendants have confessed to pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
They have also confessed to establishing a terrorist cell aimed at carrying out attacks in the country, as well as targeting police forces and shops owned by Egyptian Coptic Christians.
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