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THE STANS
Four dead as suicide bombers hit Kabul Shiite mosque
By Usman SHARIFI
Kabul (AFP) June 15, 2017


Suicide bombers struck a crowded Shiite mosque in Kabul late Thursday, killing four people in the latest in a series of militant attacks to rattle the Afghan capital during the holy month of Ramadan.

The assault claimed by Islamic State jihadists left eight others wounded when the bombers blew themselves up in the kitchen of Al Zahra mosque after police prevented them from entering the prayer hall packed with worshippers.

The carnage comes at a time Kabul is already on edge following a wave of deadly bombings, which triggered angry public protests calling for the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani's government over spiralling insecurity.

"Terrorist attack on Al Zahra mosque in west of Kabul," ministry spokesman Najib Danish said. "Three civilians and one policeman was killed and eight others were wounded."

The attack occurred as the mosque was preparing for Lailatul Qadr, an all-night congregation of worshippers during Ramadan that holds special significance for Shiite Muslims.

IS, which has frequently targeted minority Shiite areas in Kabul, claimed responsibility for the attack via its propaganda agency Amaq.

The Taliban, Afghanistan's biggest militant group locked in a fierce rivalry with IS, disavowed the attack with a spokesman saying they do not target places of worship.

The rise of IS has raised the spectre of sectarian discord in Afghanistan, something that the Sunni-majority country has largely been spared despite decades of war.

Afghanistan has witnessed a wave of attacks on Shiites in recent months claimed by IS, which considers Shiite Muslims apostates.

- Rising insecurity -

General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has pledged to defeat the local IS affiliate this year.

In April the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb ever used on an IS stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of jihadists, but the group still appears to be resilient.

IS fighters this week captured Tora Bora, a mountain cave complex in eastern Afghanistan that was once the hideout of Osama bin Laden, despite pressure on the jihadists from US-led forces.

Kabul has been on edge since a massive truck bomb on May 31 killed more than 150 people and wounded hundreds in the city's fortified diplomatic quarter, the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.

Just days later protesters incensed by the bombing clashed with police, prompting authorities to respond with live rounds, which left at least four people dead.

Separately, suicide bombers tore through a row of mourners at the funeral for one of the protesters, killing at least seven more people.

The carnage during the holy fasting month of Ramadan has left the Afghan capital shaken, with anti-government protesters incensed by rising insecurity setting up a sit-in camp close to the May 31 bombing site.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis this week acknowledged that America still is "not winning" in Afghanistan nearly 16 years after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime, as US military commanders push for additional troops to help stabilise the country.

Mattis said he will present a new US military strategy for Afghanistan, along with adjusted troop numbers, in the coming weeks to President Donald Trump.

THE STANS
Trump lets Pentagon set Afghanistan troop levels: US official
Washington (AFP) June 14, 2017
President Donald Trump has granted the Pentagon authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a US official said Tuesday, a move that could lead to the deployment of thousands more soldiers. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis can now directly adjust troop numbers, though the official would not confirm whether a new "force management level ... read more

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