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THE STANS
Fighting ongoing near site of US blast in Afghanistan: NATO
by Staff Writers
Jalalabad, Afghanistan (AFP) April 19, 2017


Pakistan military chief signs death warrants of 30 militants
Islamabad (AFP) April 19, 2017 - Pakistan's powerful army chief has confirmed the death sentences passed by military courts on 30 militants, some of whom were involved in the country's worst-ever extremist attack, authorities said Wednesday.

The military did not give a date for the executions, but when the army chief has given such orders in the past the hangings have usually been carried out within 24-48 hours.

"These terrorists were involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism," a military statement said.

It listed a string of offences including a Taliban assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 in which more than 150 people -- mostly children -- were killed in Pakistan's deadliest-ever such assault.

The statement did not name the militants, specify what role they had played in the attacks, or say who was involved in which assault.

The order came almost three weeks after Pakistan extended for another two years a law allowing military courts to try civilians on terror charges in secret, despite strong criticism from rights groups.

The courts were established in the wake of the Peshawar school attack, which traumatised a country already grimly accustomed to atrocities.

They were seen as an "exceptional" short-term measure put in place to give the government time to reform the criminal justice system -- part of a National Action Plan against extremism as the military targeted militants in the tribal areas of the northwest.

Security has dramatically improved in Pakistan since then. The law expired in January with the controversial tribunals having hanged 12 people and ordered the executions of 149 more.

In February, shortly before parliament voted to extend the courts, a fresh wave of militant violence killed 130 people across the country.

Fighting was still ongoing Wednesday near the site in eastern Afghanistan where the US dropped a massive bomb on an Islamic State group stronghold six days ago, a NATO spokesman said.

Security forces have denied access to residents and media to the area where the US military dropped its GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, dubbed the "Mother of All Bombs" and used in combat for the first time on April 13.

The target was caves and hideouts being used by the jihadist group in the Achin district of Nangargar province.

The blast triggered shockwaves which residents said they felt miles away. The Afghan defence ministry has said it killed at least 95 militants, including some IS commanders and foreign fighters, but no civilians.

The statement could not be independently verified.

"We are still engaged in active combat with the enemy" in the area, Captain Bill Salvin, a spokesman for NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan told AFP late Wednesday.

Fighting was ongoing, he said, and there are a "lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices)".

A spokesman for Afghan special forces said the presence of landmines and "pockets of resistance" on top of mountains had slowed down operations in the area. He did not specify if the fighters were Islamic State.

AFP correspondents said they saw no sign of fighting in the immediate area Wednesday, but were turned away by security forces before reaching the site.

Salvin refused to confirm or deny the toll given by Afghan authorities, but said NATO had a "very high confidence" there had been no civilian casualties, adding security forces had warned families 48 hours before the strike.

An assessment of the area could be "going on for a while", he added.

Ahmad Jan, a resident of Achin who fled IS fighting and moved with his family to the provincial capital Jalalabad before the bomb was dropped, told AFP he had no idea whether his house or relatives survived the attack.

"No one can go there, they have completely blocked the area. I don't know if my house is destroyed. They have not even shown any dead bodies to anyone," he said.

Some Afghans have condemned the use of their country as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.

Analyst and retired general Atiqullah Amarkhail told AFP the US military needed time to analyse the impact and clean the debris.

"It was not an ordinary bomb. It carried a special kind of explosives, it was tested in a mountainous area for the first time, I believe a team of US experts are now working on the ground to assess the effects and impacts," he said.

IS, notorious for its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq, has made inroads into Afghanistan in recent years, attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as Uzbek Islamists.

But the group has steadily lost ground in the face of heavy pressure both from US air strikes and a ground offensive led by Afghan forces.

IRAQ WARS
Iran Guards member begins work as Iraq ambassador
Tehran (AFP) April 19, 2017
In a sign of the growing regional influence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a close advisor to its foreign operations commander began his new role as ambassador to Iraq on Wednesday, state media reported. General Iraj Masjedi was formally the senior advisor to Major General Qassem Soleimani, who oversees Iranian operations in Iraq and Syria, state news agency IRNA reported. "Iran seeks a ... read more

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