Australia has pulled out of its upcoming men’s one-day international cricket series against Afghanistan, citing further restrictions on women’s rights imposed in the country by the ruling Taliban government. Australia was set to meet Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates for three matches in March. But following consultation with the Australian government and other groups, Cricket Australia said Thursday it would scrap the series. Read more: Afghan women athletes barred from play, fear Taliban threats When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, the extremist group banned women from playing sports on the grounds that doing so would contravene Islamic laws requiring their hair and skin to be covered. In a statement on Thursday, Cricket Australia said the decision to withdraw from the men’s one-day international series followed recent Taliban restrictions placed on women’s and girls’ education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms. “CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country,” CA said. The cancellation of the series comes after Australia cited similar reasons for scrapping a one-off test match against Afghanistan that had been set to be played in Hobart, Australia in November 2021. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women In December, the Taliban banned women from completing higher education, having prohibited attendance at gyms and parks a month earlier. According to the United Nations, women are also banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade and working most jobs outside of their homes. In November 2021, the ICC formed a working group aiming to support and review women’s and men’s cricket in Afghanistan but more than a year later, the country remains the only full member of the ICC without a fully operational women’s team.
An explosion near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital on Wednesday killed five people and wounded several others, a Taliban police spokesman said, the second prominent attack in Kabul so far in 2023. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — has increased its assaults since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of the country’s Shiite minority. The mid-afternoon explosion was followed by peals of sirens. Taliban security forces prevented journalists from getting close to the site, threatening them with guns and telling them to leave. Kabul police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said security teams have been deployed to the site. Later he said that as the result of the explosion, “five of our civilians were killed and a number of others were wounded.” Read more: Roadside bomb kills 6 people in north Afghanistan: Taliban Zadran offered no other details on the source of the blast or say how many people were wounded. Taliban government officials did not respond to requests seeking additional comment. Checkpoints line the fortified route to the ministry, which is on one of the roads leading to the presidential palace. Guards stop and search vehicles and people along the way. A photograph posted on social media, purportedly of the blast site, shows at least six bodies on the ground. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the explosion, calling it an “act of terrorism, a crime against humanity and an act against all human and Islamic values.” He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a swift recovery. In the earlier attack this year in Kabul, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a bombing near a checkpoint at the city’s military airport that killed and wounded several people. There have been no official casualty figures for that attack so far. Read more: Afghan Taliban kill 8 in raids of IS hideouts in Afghanistan IS also claimed an assault on a Kabul hotel in mid-December.
Noura’s determination to play sports was so great that she defied her family’s opposition for years. Beatings from her mother and jeers from her neighbors never stopped her from the sports she loved. But the 20-year-old Afghan woman could not defy her country’s Taliban rulers. They have not just banned all sports for women and girls, they have actively intimidated and harassed those who once played, often scaring them from even practicing in private, Noura and other women say. Noura has been left shattered. “I’m not the same person anymore,” she said. “Since the Taliban came, I feel like I’m dead.” A number of girls and women who once played a variety of sports told The Associated Press they have been intimidated by the Taliban with visits and phone calls warning them not to engage in their sports. The women and girls spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they will face further threats. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women They posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. They hid their identities with burqas, the all-encompassing robes and hood that completely cover the face, leaving only a mesh to see through. They didn't normally wear the burqa, but they said they sometimes do now when they go outside and want to remain anonymous and avoid harassment. The ban on sports is part of the Taliban's escalating campaign of restrictions that have shut down life for girls and women. Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have barred girls from attending middle and high school. Last month, they ordered all women thrown out of universities as well. The Taliban require women to cover their hair and faces in public and prohibit them from going to parks or gyms. They have severely limited women’s ability to work outside the home and most recently forbade non-governmental organizations from employing women, a step that could cripple the vital flow of aid. Even before the Taliban, women’s sports were opposed by many in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society, seen as a violation of women’s modesty and of their role in society. Still, the previous, internationally-backed government had programs encouraging women's sports and school clubs, leagues and national teams for women in many sports. A 20-year-old mixed martial artist recalled how in August 2021, she was competing in a local women’s tournament at a Kabul sports hall. Word spread through the audience and participants that the advancing Taliban were on the city’s outskirts. All the women and girls fled the hall. It was the last competition the young athlete ever played in. Months later, she said she tried to give private lessons for girls. But Taliban fighters raided the gym where they were practicing and arrested them all. In detention, the girls were humiliated and mocked, she said. After mediation by elders, they were released after promising not to practice sports anymore. She still practices at home and sometimes teaches her close friends. “Life has become very difficult for me, but I am a fighter, so I will continue to live and fight,” she said. Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan Mushwanay, spokesman of the Taliban’s Sports Organization and National Olympic Committee, said authorities were looking for a way to restart sports for women by building separate sports venues. But he gave no time frame and said funds were needed to do so. Taliban authorities have repeatedly made similar promises to allow girls 7th grade and up to return to school, but still have not done so. Noura faced resistance her whole life as she tried to play sports. Raised in a poor Kabul district by parents who migrated from the provinces, Noura started out playing soccer alongside local boys in the street. When she was nine, a coach spotted her and, at his encouragement, she joined a girls’ youth team. She kept it a secret from everyone but her father, but her cover was blown by her own talent. At 13, she was named the best girl soccer player in her age group, and her photo and name were broadcast on television. “All over the world, when a girl becomes famous and her picture is shown on TV, it’s a good day for her and she’s at the peak of happiness,” she said. “For me, that day was very bitter and the beginning of worse days.” Furious, her mother beat her, shouting that she was not allowed to play soccer. She kept playing in secret but was exposed again when her team won a national championship, and her photo was in the news. Again, her mother beat her. Still, she sneaked off to the award ceremony. She broke down in tears on stage as the audience cheered. “Only I knew I was crying because of loneliness and the hard life I had,” she said. When she found out, her mother set fire to her soccer uniform and shoes. Noura gave up soccer, but then turned to boxing. Her mother eventually relented, realizing she couldn’t stop her from sports, she said. The day the Taliban entered Kabul, she said, her coach called her mother and said Noura should go to the airport to be taken out of the country. Noura said her mother didn’t deliver the message because she didn't want her to leave. When she learned of the message—too late to escape—Noura said she cut her wrists and had to be taken to the hospital. “The world had become dark for me,” she said. Three months later, someone who identified himself as a member of the Taliban called the family and threatened her. “They were saying, why did you play sports? Sports are forbidden,” she recalled. Terrified, she left Kabul, disguising herself in her burqa to travel to her family’s hometown. Eventually, she returned but remains in fear. “Even if my life was difficult, I used to have confidence in myself and knew that, with effort, I could do what I wanted,” she said. “Now I don’t have much hope anymore.”
In a book full of startling revelations, Prince Harry’s assertion that he killed 25 people in Afghanistan is one of the most striking — and has drawn criticism from both enemies and allies. In his memoir, “Spare,” Harry says he killed more than two dozen Taliban militants while serving as an Apache helicopter copilot gunner in Afghanistan in 2012-2013. He writes that he feels neither satisfaction nor shame about his actions, and in the heat of battle regarded enemy combatants as pieces being removed from a chessboard, “Baddies eliminated before they could kill Goodies.” Harry has talked before about his combat experience, saying near the end of his tour in 2013 that “if there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.” But his decision to put a number on those he killed, and the comparison to chess pieces, drew outrage from the Taliban, and concern from British veterans. “Mr. Harry! The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return,” prominent Taliban member Anas Haqqani wrote Friday on Twitter. The Taliban, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam, returned to power when Western troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said Harry’s comments “are a microcosm of the trauma experienced by Afghans at the hands of occupation forces who murdered innocents without any accountability.” In Britain, some veterans and military leaders said publishing a head count violated an unspoken military code. Col. Tim Collins, who led a British battalion during the Iraq war, told Forces News that the statement was “not how you behave in the Army; it’s not how we think.” Retired Royal Navy officer Rear Adm. Chris Parry called the claim “distasteful.” Some questioned whether Harry could be sure of the toll, but Harry said he reviewed video of his missions, and “in the era of Apaches and laptops,” technology let him know exactly how many enemy combatants he had killed. Read more: Prince Harry's memoir ‘Spare’ to narrate journey from ‘trauma to healing’ Others said Harry’s words could increase the security risk for him and for British forces around the world. “I don’t think it is wise that he said that out loud,” Royal Marines veteran Ben McBean, who knows Harry from their military days, told Sky News. “He’s already got a target on his back, more so than anyone else.” Retired Army Col. Richard Kemp told the BBC the claim was “an error of judgment” that would be “potentially valuable to those people who wish the British forces and British government harm.” Harry lost his publicly funded U.K. police protection when he and his wife Meghan quit royal duties in 2020. Harry is suing the British government over its refusal to let him pay personally for police security when he comes to Britain. Tens of thousands of British troops served in Afghanistan, and more than 450 died, between the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and the end of U.K. combat operations in 2014. Harry spent a decade in the British Army, serving twice in Afghanistan. He spent 10 weeks as a forward air controller in 2007-2008 until a media leak cut short his tour. He retrained as a helicopter pilot with the British Army Air Corps so he could have the chance to return to the front line. He was part of a two-man crew whose duties ranged from supporting ground troops in firefights to accompanying helicopters as they evacuated wounded soldiers. Harry has described his time in the army as the happiest of his life because it let him be “one of the guys” rather than a prince. After leaving the military in 2015 he founded the Invictus Games, an international sports competition for sick and injured veterans. Read more: Prince Harry says William called Meghan “difficult, rude and abrasive” before physical attack Harry's memoir is due to be published around the world on Tuesday. The Associated Press obtained an early Spanish-language copy.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban killed eight Islamic State militants and arrested nine others in a series of raids targeting key figures in a spate of attacks in Kabul, a senior Taliban government spokesman said Thursday. Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban government, said the raids in the capital city and western Nimroz province on Wednesday targeted IS militants who organized recent attacks on Kabul’s Longan Hotel, Pakistan’s embassy and the military airport. Eight IS fighters, including foreign nationals, were killed and seven others arrested in Kabul, while a separate operation in western Nimroz province resulted in two more IS arrests, Mujahid said. “These members had a main role in the attack on the Chinese hotel and paved the way for foreign IS members to come to Afghanistan,” Mujahid said in a tweet. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing near a checkpoint at the Afghan capital’s military airport Sunday. IS said that attack was carried out by the same militant who took part in the Longan Hotel assault in mid-December. The regional affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province and a key rival of the Taliban — has increased its attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shiite minority. Read more: Roadside bomb kills 6 people in north Afghanistan: Taliban IS published a photo of the attacker, identifying him as Abdul Jabbar, saying he withdrew safely from the attack on the hotel after he ran out of ammunition. It added he detonated his explosives-laden vest targeting the soldiers gathered at the checkpoint. Mujahid said light weapons, hand grenades, mines, vests and explosives were confiscated by the Taliban’s security forces during the raids on an IS hideout in the Shahdai Salehin neighborhood. Local residents reported sounds of several explosions and an hourslong gun battle. The Taliban swept across the country in August 2021, seizing power as U.S. and NATO forces were in the last weeks of their final withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. Read more: Taliban: 2 civilians killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday decried increasing restrictions on women's rights in Afghanistan, urging the country's Taliban rulers to reverse them immediately. The Security Council “reiterated its deep concern of the suspension of schools beyond the sixth grade, and its call for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan,” it said in a press statement. Read more: 4 NGOs suspend work in Afghanistan after Taliban bar women U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk pointed to “terrible consequences” of a decision to bar women from working for non-governmental organizations. Last week, Taliban authorities stopped university education for women, sparking international outrage and demonstrations in Afghan cities. On Saturday, they announced the exclusion of women from NGO work, a move that already has prompted four major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan. “No country can develop — indeed survive — socially and economically with half its population excluded," Türk said in a statement issued in Geneva. "These unfathomable restrictions placed on women and girls will not only increase the suffering of all Afghans but, I fear, pose a risk beyond Afghanistan’s borders.” “This latest decree by the de facto authorities will have terrible consequences for women and for all Afghan people,” Türk said, adding that banning women from working for NGOs will deprive them and their families of incomes and of the right to “contribute positively” to the country's development. Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan “The ban will significantly impair, if not destroy, the capacity of these NGOs to deliver the essential services on which so many vulnerable Afghans depend," he said. Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities when they took power last year, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. “Women and girls cannot be denied their inherent rights," Türk said. “Attempts by the de facto authorities to relegate them to silence and invisibility will not succeed — it will merely harm all Afghans, compound their suffering, and impede the country’s development.”
The U.S. has condemned the Taliban for ordering non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to stop employing women, saying the ban will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions. The Taliban takeover last year sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces. “Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday. “This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.” Read more: Taliban bar women from university education in Afghanistan The NGO order came in a letter from Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif. It said any organization found not complying with the order will have their operating license revoked in Afghanistan. It is the latest blow to female rights and freedoms since the Taliban seized power last year and follows sweeping restrictions on education, employment, clothing and travel. The flurry of edicts from the all-male and religiously driven Taliban government are reminiscent of their rule in the late 1990s, when they banned women from education and public spaces and outlawed music, television and many sports. The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply disturbed by reports of the NGO ban. Read more: Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan “The United Nations and its partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, are helping more than 28 million Afghans who depend on humanitarian aid to survive,” he said in a statement. Aid agencies and NGOs are expected to make a statement Sunday. The Economy Ministry’s order comes days after the Taliban banned female students from attending universities across the country, triggering backlash overseas and demonstrations in major Afghan cities. At around midnight Saturday in the western city of Herat, where earlier protesters were dispersed with water cannons, people opened their windows and chanted “Allahu Akbar (God is great)” in solidarity with female students. In the southern city of Kandahar, also on Saturday, hundreds of male students boycotted their final semester exams at Mirwais Neeka University. One of them told The Associated Press that Taliban forces tried to break up the crowd as they left the exam hall. “They tried to disperse us so we chanted slogans, then others joined in with the slogans,” said Akhbari, who only gave his last name. “We refused to move and the Taliban thought we were protesting. The Taliban started shooting their rifles into the air. I saw two guys being beaten, one of them to the head.” A spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, Ataullah Zaid, denied there was a protest. There were some people who were pretending to be students and teachers, he said, but they were stopped by students and security forces.
Military bases that housed tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in the U.S. incurred almost $260 million in damages that in some cases rendered buildings unusable for troops until significant repairs to walls and plumbing are made, the Pentagon’s inspector general found. Over the last two weeks of August 2021, the U.S. Air Force managed the largest humanitarian evacuation in its history, airlifting 120,000 people from Afghanistan in just 17 days. The bulk of those passengers were Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, and U.S. aircraft delivered tens of thousands of those Afghans initially to bases in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Italy, Bahrain and Germany. After processing, many of the refugees were flown to eight military bases in the U.S., where many were housed for months as they awaited visa processing and resettlement; the last Afghan refugee left military housing in February. The refugees were housed at Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.; Camp Atterbury, Indiana; Fort Pickett, Fort Lee, and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The sheer volume of people in the temporary housing left those barracks and buildings with significant wear and tear, the inspector general found. Read more: Afghan survivors of US drone strike: Sorry ‘is not enough’ In one case, training for the Indiana National Guard was relocated from Camp Atterbury to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, due to damages caused during “Operation Allies Welcome.” The facilities need to be restored “to a condition that enables them to conduct trainings, prepare for future events, and return to normal base operations,” the IG found. For example, of the $260 million in approved restoration costs, the Defense Department approved about $16 million for Camp Atterbury “to replace mattresses and furniture and repair floors, doors, windows, plumbing, fire alarm systems, and landscaping.” But the inspector general questioned whether all the repair work requested by the eight bases was connected to the refugees’ stay. For example, Fort McCoy, which housed 12,706 refugees, was approved for $145.6 million to repair buildings and plumbing, an amount that was more than three times the combined restoration needs of Fort Bliss and Fort Pickett, which had housed similar numbers of refugees. Read more: US says drone kills IS bombers targeting Kabul airport
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Tuesday banned female students from attending universities effective immediately in the latest edict cracking down on women’s rights and freedoms. Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women’s and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year. Read: Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan The decision was announced after a government meeting. A letter shared by the spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, Ziaullah Hashmi, told private and public universities to implement the ban as soon as possible and to inform the ministry once the ban is in place. Hashmi tweeted the letter and confirmed its contents in a message to The Associated Press without giving further details. The decision is certain to hurt efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. The international community has urged Taliban leaders to reopen schools and give women their right to public space. The university ban comes weeks after Afghan girls took their high school graduation exams, even though they have been banned from classrooms since the Taliban took over the country last year. “I can’t fulfill my dreams, my hopes. Everything is disappearing before my eyes and I can’t do anything about it,” said a third-year journalism and communication student at Nangarhar University. She did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals. “Is being a girl a crime? If that’s the case, I wish I wasn’t a girl,” she added. “My father had dreams for me, that his daughter would become a talented journalist in the future. That is now destroyed. So, you tell me, how will a person feel in this situation?” Read: Taliban: 2 civilians killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan She added that she had not lost all hope yet. “God willing, I will continue my studies in any way. I’m starting online studies. And, if it doesn’t work, I will have to leave the country and go to another country,” she said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it another “broken promise” from the Taliban and a “very troubling” move. “It’s difficult to imagine how a country can develop, can deal with all of the challenges that it has, without the active participation of women and the education,” Guterres said. Robert Wood, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans. U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the United States also condemned the move by the Taliban. “This deplorable decision is the latest effort by Taliban leadership to impose additional restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan and prevent them from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Watson said. “As a result of this unacceptable stance to hold back half of the population of Afghanistan, the Taliban will be further alienated from the international community and denied the legitimacy they desire,” she added. Afghanistan’s U.N. seat is still held by the previous government led by former President Ashraf Ghani, despite the Taliban’s request to represent the country at the United Nations, which was recently deferred again. Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs Naseer Ahmed Faiq said at the U.N. that the announcement “marks a new low in violation of most fundamental and universal human rights for all of humanity.”
At least 19 people were killed and 32 injured when a fuel tanker exploded in a tunnel north of the Afghan capital Kabul, a local official said Sunday. The Salang Tunnel, which is around 80 miles north of Kabul, was originally built in the 1960s to assist the Soviet invasion. It is a key link between the country's north and south. A spokesman for Parwan province, Said Himatullah Shamim, said Saturday night's tunnel explosion killed at least 19 people, including women and children. He said survivors remain trapped under rubble and that the number of casualties could rise. It was not immediately clear what caused the incident, which happened at around 8.30 p.m. Parwan's health department has received 14 dead and 24 injured so far, according to local official Dr. Abdullah Afghan. There are five women and two children among the dead, he said, and the rest are men who are severely burnt and cannot be recognized. A spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works, Molvi Hamidullah Misbah, said earlier Sunday that the fire was extinguished and that teams were still working to clear the tunnel.