Afghanistan‘s vice-president has accused Pakistan of providing ‘close air support’ for the Taliban as a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer was killed by the Islamist group while covering border clashes.
Amrullah Saleh claimed the Pakistani military had warned Afghanistan that they would be ‘faced and repelled’ by Pakistan’s Air Force if they tried to attack the Taliban in Spin Boldak to retake the key border crossing between the two countries.
The vice president claimed that Afghanistan’s aircrafts were warned to back off from Spin Boldak or ‘face air to air missiles’.
It comes as Reuters news agency said Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Danish Siddiqui, who was embedded with the Afghan special forces, was killed as the commando unit sought to recapture Spin Boldak.
Reuters said Siddiqui and a senior Afghan officer were killed in what they described as Taliban crossfire.
Amrullah Saleh claimed the Pakistani military had warned Afghanistan that they would be ‘faced and repelled’ by Pakistan’s Air Force if they tried to attack the Taliban in Spin Boldak to retake the key border crossing between the two countries. Pictured: Afghan security forces
Reuters news agency said Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Danish Siddi (pictured), who was embedded with the Afghan special forces, was killed as the commando unit sought to recapture Spin Boldak
‘Pakistan air force has issued official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force,’ Saleh tweeted on Thursday.
‘Pak air force is now providing close air support to Taliban in certain areas.’
He added: ‘Afghan aircrafts as far as 10 kilometres from Spin Boldak are warned to back off or face air to air missiles. Afghanistan is too big to be swallowed.’
Pakistan has strongly denied the claim, with a foreign ministry statement saying the country ‘took necessary measures within its territory to safeguard our own troops and population’.
Afghanistan’s vice-president Amrullah Saleh has accused Pakistan of providing ‘close air support’ for the Taliban
‘We acknowledge Afghan government’s right to undertake actions on its sovereign territory,’ Pakistan’s foreign ministry added.
But Saleh dismissed Pakistan’s denials as false and said on Friday: ‘On Pakistani denial: For over twenty years Pakistan denied the existence of Quetta Shura [militant organisation with Taliban leaders] or presence of Taliban terrorist leaders in its soil.
‘Those familiar with this pattern, Afghan or foreign, know exactly that issuing a statement is just a pre-written paragraph.’
The war of words comes as Afghan forces clashed Friday with Taliban fighters in Spin Boldak after launching an operation to retake the key border crossing with Pakistan.
Dozens of wounded Taliban fighters were being treated at a Pakistan hospital near the border after fierce overnight fighting, AFP correspondents at the scene reported.
‘We have suffered one death and dozens of our fighters have got injured,’ Mullah Muhammad Hassan, who identified himself as a Taliban insurgent, told AFP near Chaman in Pakistan, about five kilometres (three miles) from the border.
Reuters news agency said Friday one of its photographers had been killed in the Spin Boldak fighting, citing an Afghan army commander.
The war of words comes as Afghan forces clashed Friday with Taliban fighters (pictured: file) in Spin Boldak after launching an operation to retake the key border crossing with Pakistan
A member of Afghan Special Forces sits on the rooftop of his humvee as he arrives at the base after heavy clashes with Taliban on July 13
Reuters news agency said Friday one of its photographers, Danish Siddiqui, had been killed in the Spin Boldak fighting
Danish Siddiqui, an Indian national, was part of a team that shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 and had been embedded with Afghan special forces, the agency said.
‘We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region,’ Reuters President Michael Friedenberg and Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement.
‘Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time.’
Siddiqui told Reuters he had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel earlier on Friday while reporting on the clash. He was treated and had been recovering when Taliban fighters retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak.
Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again, the Afghan commander said.
Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui covers the monsoon floods and landslides in the upper reaches of Govindghat, India in 2013
Danish Siddiqui, right, takes photographs while helping a flood-affected woman who is being evacuated from the upper reaches of Govindghat in India in 2013
A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Farid Mamundzay, tweeted his condolences.
The fight for the border comes as the Taliban close in on the stronghold of long-time foe Abdul Rashid Dostum, with the insurgent group’s spokesman saying the warlord’s militia forces had fled Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan province.
The group had ‘captured the gate’ of the city, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a WhatsApp message, adding: ‘Dostum’s militia left the city and fled towards the airport.’
The deputy governor of Jowzjan confirmed that the Taliban had reached the gates of the provincial capital, but said government forces were pushing back against the militants.
For years, Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north, which garnered a fearsome reputation in its fight with the Taliban in the 1990s – along with accusations that his forces massacred thousands of insurgent prisoners of war.
A rout or retreat of his fighters would dent the Kabul government’s recent hopes that militia groups can help bolster the country’s overstretched military.
Residents of Spin Boldak, which fell to the Taliban on Wednesday, said the insurgents and the army were battling in the main bazaar of the border town.
‘There is heavy fighting,’ said Mohammad Zahir.
The border crossing provides direct access to Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where the Taliban’s top leadership has been based for decades, along with an unknown number of reserve fighters who regularly enter Afghanistan to bolster their ranks.
As fighting continued, Pakistan said Thursday it would hold a special conference on Afghanistan in Islamabad at the weekend, although Taliban officials had not been invited.
There were signs too that official talks in Doha – which have stalled for months – could stutter back to life.
An aide to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told local media his government had asked for the Islamabad conference to be postponed as negotiators were already heading to Qatar.
The Taliban have capitalised on the last stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops to launch a series of lightning offensives across the country, capturing a swath of districts and border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.
Foreign troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades following the US-led invasion launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
They have appeared largely out of the picture in recent months, but fears are growing that government forces will be overwhelmed without the vital air support they provide.
The speed and scale of the Taliban onslaught have caught many by surprise, with analysts saying it appears aimed at forcing the government to sue for peace on the insurgents’ terms or suffer complete military defeat.
An Afghan official said Thursday a local ceasefire with Taliban leaders had been negotiated for Qala-i-Naw, the Badghis provincial capital that saw fierce street fighting last week.
‘The ceasefire was brokered by tribal elders,’ Badghis governor Hesamuddin Shams told AFP.