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Airstrikes slow down Taliban offensive on Kunduz



Airstrikes slow down Taliban offensive on Kunduz

…As Iran official says U.S. showing ‘some flexibility’ on oil sales***

Afghan air forces have slowed down a new Taliban offensive on parts of the north-eastern city of Kunduz, officials said on Saturday.

Various militant locations were targeted inside the city, said Provincial Councillor, Gulam Rabbani Rabbani, in fighting that has been going on for about 12 hours.

Sporadic gunfire rang out in different parts of the city, but not with the intensity of the earlier hours, according to another Councillor, Mawlawi Abdullah.

The city’s main electricity supply building, provincial hospital and the third police district are among the most important locations already taken over by the Taliban, according to local officials.

There were civilian and military casualties but the councillors did not provide any figures.

The clearance operation was being conducted cautiously to protect civilians, said a spokesman from the nearest major military base, the 217 corps of Pamir.

The Defence and Interior Ministries said that at least 40 Taliban militants were killed as a result of the air and ground operations in the city.

These numbers could not be verified.

Commando forces had also been deployed to the city, the Interior Ministry said.

Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in contrast that the militants’ operation in Kunduz, which began in the middle of the night, was going “smoothly”.

Mujahid published videos showing militants collecting munitions from a police compound apparently abandoned by Afghan forces.

In another video, a number of policemen were shown giving up their weapons to the Taliban and leaving their compound somewhere in the city.

The authenticity of the videos could not be verified.

The attack took place amid talks between the Taliban and the U.S. to find a political solution to the 17-year-long conflict.

Kunduz has been a flashpoint in the Afghanistan conflict over the past few years.

In late 2016, the Taliban entered the city and fought with Afghan forces for several days before being pushed out.

The Taliban took control of Kunduz for almost two weeks in late 2015 and made it the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since the American-led intervention in 2001.

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In the meantime, a senior Iranian official said on Saturday the United States had shown flexibility on the licensing of Iranian oil sales and this was a sign that Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy against Tehran had been defeated, state media reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron paved the way at a G7 summit a week ago for a potential diplomatic solution to a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran brewing since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“Macron met with Trump during the G7 meeting and the U.S. side has shown some flexibility in the licensing of Iranian oil sales,’’ Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchi, was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying.

“This is a breach in the U.S. maximum pressure policy and success for Iran’s policy of maximum resistance.’’

Araqchi did not elaborate and there was no immediate French or U.S. comment.

Since ditching the nuclear deal, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, Trump has re-imposed sanctions to strangle its vital oil trade and force Tehran to accept stricter limits on its nuclear activity, curb its ballistic missile programme and end its support for proxy forces around the Middle East.

Araqchi said Iran and its European partners in the nuclear deal faced “difficult and complex” talks towards salvaging the pact.

He said Tehran was determined to continue reducing its commitments under the accord until it received protection against sanctions on its oil sales and banking transactions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged his people on Wednesday to unite to overcome Washington’s “economic war” while his government said it would use diplomacy to try to solve the standoff even though it distrusted Trump.

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya, with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, saying Washington had reliable information the vessel was headed to Syria, an ally of Tehran.

The ship was detained by Britain off Gibraltar in July due to suspicions it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

It was released in mid-August after Iran gave assurances that its cargo was not destined for Syria.

Turkey said on Friday the ship was headed to Lebanese waters after changing course several times.

Beirut said it was not informed of the plan, but Turkey’s information suggested that a ship-to-ship transfer of cargo might be attempted once it nears the coast of Lebanon, which borders on Syria.

A senior Iranian military commander vowed that Iran would retaliate if any of its vessels was stopped in international waters, according to Fars news agency.

“Piracy against Iran can’t be easily overlooked.

“It is natural for us to act when Iranian ships are stopped in any part of the world’s waters.

“Iran’s armed forces will certainly retaliate,’’ Brigadier General Kiumars Heydari, the Head of Iran’s Regular Ground Forces, told Fars.




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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’



The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin



Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel



A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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