Islamic State degraded in Afghanistan but still poses threat

Islamic State degraded in Afghanistan but still poses threat

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Internally displaced tribal leader Dawlat Khan plays with his children and nephews in a house on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Khan fled his village of Pananzai with his six brothers and their families at the … more >

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By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Tribal elder Dawlat Khan still has nightmares about fighters from the local affiliate of the global Islamic State terror network who swept across his and other villages in eastern Afghanistan five years ago.

The extremists, including Afghans, Pakistanis, Arabs and men from Central Asia, quickly imposed a reign of terror. They kidnapped some locals who worked for the Afghan government, later dropping off their decapitated corpses in public places. In one instance, villagers were summoned to a beheading where some fainted while others froze as they watched in horror.

Militants of the Islamic State group have since been driven back into the mountains by blistering U.S. and Afghan bombing raids and a fierce ground campaign by the Taliban, Afghanistan‘s homegrown insurgents. The Taliban, eager to expand their domestic political power, pledged to the Trump administration last year they would prevent any attacks on the West from Afghan soil after foreign troops leave.

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Recent success in containing IS is central to the calculus of President Biden, who decided earlier this month to pull all remaining U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the summer. Biden argues that threats to the West, whether by IS or remnants of the al Qaeda network, can be defused from a distance.

Yet there are concerns that in the potential chaos of a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, IS “will be able to find additional space to operate,” said Seth Jones, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Some note that it took more than three years to dislodge and degrade IS fighters, many of them ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan’s tribal regions and Afghans from the northeastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces. The retreating militants left behind mined roads and fields.

Khan, the tribal leader, fled his village of Pananzai with his six brothers and their families at the height of the battles against IS. They’re not rushing home, even though the family of 63 people is crammed into nine small rooms in Nangarhar’s provincial capital of Jalalabad.

“We are afraid they will return,” Khan, a father of 12, said of IS fighters.

Biden has said he will hold the Taliban accountable for their commitment not to allow terror threats against the U.S. or its allies from Afghan soil. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago after al Qaeda militants, hosted by the Taliban, staged the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In recent years, Washington has come to see the Taliban as a national force, with no ambitions beyond their borders, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The Taliban, familiar with mountain caves and dirt paths in remote terrain, are a useful ally against IS, which is viewed by the U.S. as the greatest threat emanating from Afghanistan, the official said.

In justifying his withdrawal decision, Biden noted that terror threats are “metastasizing around the globe” and that “keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country, at the cost of billions each year, makes little sense to me and our leaders.”

The withdrawal is under way, with the final phase starting Saturday. By Sept. 11, America will have withdrawn its last 2,500 to 3,500 troops, and about 7,000 allied forces from NATO are following the same timetable.

But there are concerns about IS re-emerging, particularly if the Taliban and the Afghan government can’t reach a power-sharing deal. Intra-Afghan peace talks remain stalled, despite U.S. efforts to jump-start them.

Ongoing fighting between the Taliban and the government could further erode the morale of Afghanistan‘s 300,000-plus security forces who sustain heavy casualties daily and are plagued by widespread corruption. It’s unclear how the troops can be a bulwark against new terrorist threats.

At the same time, IS continues to recruit among radicalized university students and disgruntled Taliban, said a former Afghan security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

IS has also resumed a campaign of targeted killings of minority Shiite Muslims, many of them ethnic Hazaras, as well as women’s rights activists and media workers. They claimed attacks last year on two educational facilities, including Kabul University, that killed more than 50 students. Washington blamed IS for a brutal assault last year on a maternity hospital in a largely Hazara neighborhood of Kabul. Infants and pregnant women were killed.

In March, seven Hazaras who worked in a stucco factory in the eastern city of Jalalabad were killed in an attack claimed by IS. The assailants tied their victims’ hands behind their backs and shot each with a single bullet to the back of the head.

Some residents there are afraid to point the finger at IS, fearing they might be targeted next.

IS operatives are said to occupy an entire neighborhood near the central Talashi roundabout. They have infiltrated the motorized rickshaw business and use the vehicles for targeted killings, said taxi driver Saida Jan.

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant, said for a while it appeared the IS presence in Afghanistan and surrounding regions “was all but dead,” but the group’s operations “have since resumed in earnest.”

“They represent a significant terrorist threat, but their tactics remain in the realm of assassination and sabotage,” said Kohlmann, who has worked with the FBI and the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation that emerged following the assaults on America.

“They don’t seem to be in a strong position of conquering and holding territory,” or of threatening the U.S., he said.

The Taliban say they have made good on promises to the U.S. by ordering fighters to keep non-Afghans from their ranks, and telling al-Qaida to leave the region. Some analysts say they’re not convinced the Taliban have distanced themselves from groups like al-Qaida.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, acknowledge the withdrawal will reduce Washington’s intelligence gathering capacities, even if IS and al Qaeda aren’t in a position to attack U.S. targets from Afghanistan.

Asfandyar Mir at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation said the U.S. will be able to continue technical eaves-dropping from a distance, while on-the-ground intelligence gathering will weaken further.

“The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has been notoriously poor at getting good information and being played by rent-seeking actors, the cost of which is borne by innocent civilians in raids and strikes gone wrong,” said Mir.

“With U.S. forces out, and unable to provide security to potential informers, existing sources will dwindle and opportunities for bad actors to dupe the U.S. will grow,” he said.

NATO ministers’ summit punts on Afghan troop decision

NATO ministers’ summit punts on Afghan troop decision

Trump's May 1 withdrawal date for U.S. uncertain now

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference, after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in video format, at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The U.S. and its NATO allies are deadlocked about their military future in Afghanistan, with a key May 1 withdrawal deadline fast approaching and no clear signals from either Washington or Brussels on the path forward.

Thursday’s meeting of NATO defense ministers, including new U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, was expected to offer some clues on how the Biden administration might handle one of its first major foreign policy decisions and whether it will abide by the terms of a historic deal former President Trump struck with the Taliban last year.

That pact calls for all U.S. troops to exit Afghanistan by May 1 if the Taliban fulfills its promises, including a permanent break from terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and tangible progress in direct peace talks with the Afghan government.

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While just 2,500 of the roughly 10,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan are Americans, Washington’s decision on whether to stick to the May 1 deadline will determine NATO’s fate as well. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and alliance defense chiefs seem to have received little clarity from the Pentagon on Thursday as to what Mr. Biden’s team intends to do.

“We are faced with many dilemmas and there are no easy options,” Mr. Stoltenberg said at a press conference immediately after the meeting. “At this stage, we have made no final decision on the future of our presence [in Afghanistan].”

A day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Mr. Austin told his fellow defense ministers Thursday that “the U.S. is conducting a thorough review of the conditions of the U.S.-Taliban agreement to determine whether all parties have adhered to those conditions.”

Mr. Biden as vice president expressed deep skepticism about the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, now entering its 20th year.

Now his options include following Mr. Trump’s lead despite continuing violence and instability in Kabul, or maintaining and even expanding the U.S. military footprint in one of his first major acts in office.

Much like his predecessor, Mr. Biden campaigned on stopping “forever wars” in the Middle East and bringing troops home — though the administration also has suggested it does not necessarily feel bound by the Trump deal and could keep troops in Afghanistan past May 1.

Foreign policy specialists say Thursday’s indecisive summit shouldn’t be surprising, as it’s clear the White House has yet to decide what to do and that Brussels is paralyzed until the U.S. acts.

“The danger here is that Biden, Blinken and [National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan] have no idea what to do but are setting the stage to simply blame the Trump plan should Afghanistan collapse,” said former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “That might make good American politics, but it betrays an ally and is neither wise nor leadership.”

“NATO has zero options to diverge from the U.S.,” Mr. Rubin told The Washington Times. “They have essentially been window-dressing all along.”

The U.S.-led NATO mission is aimed at providing some semblance of security across the country while also training Afghan security forces, which would take on a significantly larger role in the absence of American troops.

Thursday brought yet another reminder of instability facing Afghanistan, with an explosion at Kabul University killing at least two university lecturers. Police in the Afghan capital said a bomb was attached to the vehicle of Mubasher Muslimyar and Marouf Rasikh, members of the university’s Islamic studies faculty, according to media reports.

No group has claimed responsibility for the assault. Over the past year, Taliban violence has mostly been directed at Afghan security forces, though other extremist groups — including the Islamic State — also operate inside the country and often carry out horrific attacks.

Meanwhile, few believe the Taliban has lived up to the commitments it made in its peace deal with the U.S.

Pentagon reports and international observers, for example, have said in recent months that the Taliban still associates with al Qaeda fighters. Taliban violence also remains unacceptably high.

The Taliban’s unwillingness or inability to fully live up to its end of the bargain has been a constant source of frustration for international leaders.

“I have many times made clear that the Taliban needs to negotiate in good faith, violence has to be reduced, and the Taliban has to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups that are planning terrorist attacks on our own countries, allied countries,” Mr. Stoltenberg said Thursday.

Joe Biden faces delicate dilemma in Afghanistan War handoff

Biden faces delicate dilemma in Afghanistan War handoff

Talks just getting started as the troops are coming home

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Afghan security police stand guard at the entrance gate of Kabul University after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The brazen attack by gunmen who stormed the university has left many dead and wounded in the … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden is facing pressure from all sides in the war in Afghanistan, with Taliban leaders urging him to continue a rapid drawdown of American troops while the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is pleading for a cautious approach and a rock-solid commitment to counterterrorism.

Perhaps no other foreign policy challenge will prove trickier for Mr. Biden to finesse in his first days in office than Afghanistan, as violence escalates on the ground, power-sharing talks midwifed by the Trump administration have barely started, and a U.S. troop withdrawal is gaining momentum.

It seems certain that Mr. Biden’s big-picture, long-term approach to the country — home to the longest war in American history and still a hotbed of Islamic extremism — will in many ways mirror that of President Trump, with the former vice president repeatedly pledging to wind down the “forever wars” that have consumed the U.S. military in the post-9/11 era. Analysts say it’s clear that Mr. Biden’s position has been heavily influenced by Mr. Trump’s largely successful effort to reframe the debate around U.S. involvement in Afghanistan — now nearing its 20th year — and a clear desire among the American public to see the troops finally come home.

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But those same analysts say it’s unlikely that Mr. Biden will simply follow Mr. Trump’s playbook to the letter. Mr. Biden has indicated that he is willing to station as many as 2,000 troops in the Middle East and retain a small number in Afghanistan, a move that would require changes to the landmark U.S.-Taliban peace pact struck in February.

That agreement calls for all American forces to leave the country by next summer in exchange for security and political guarantees from the Taliban. The insurgent group this week publicly pressed Mr. Biden to stick to the agreement and quickly move out the remaining 4,500 American troops, while the Kabul government is urging Washington to revisit aspects of the deal and avoid premature withdrawals.

Many predict Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team will continue diplomatic engagement with the Taliban but abandon Mr. Trump’s expedited withdrawal timeline, instead adopting a strict conditions-based approach favored by many Pentagon leaders. A Biden administration is also likely to work more closely with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, which was largely sidelined in the early stages of negotiation between Washington and the Taliban.

Biden will likely continue the ‘counterterrorism-plus’ strategy which would see 1,500 to 2,000 troops remain in the country,” said former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The biggest difference between Biden and Trump would be that Biden’s negotiators … would be far less likely than [those of the Trump administration] to cut out the Afghanistan government from key negotiations.”

In addition to the U.S. troop drawdowns, the deal also called for direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government, which are ongoing in Qatar. It also required the Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups.

But even with the talks underway, new Pentagon assessments have warned that al Qaeda and Islamic State fighters remain active in remote areas of the country near the Pakistan border. As Mr. Biden seeks to bring troops home, he has made clear that terrorism remains a major concern.

“These ‘forever wars’ have to end. I support drawing down the troops,” Mr. Biden told Stars and Stripes in September. “But here’s the problem: We still have to worry about terrorism.”

Growing pressure

Meanwhile, both sides of the Afghanistan conflict are angling for influence as the Biden transition team prepares for power. In a statement this week, Mr. Ghani congratulated Mr. Biden on his apparent election victory but made clear what he expects of his new partner.

Afghanistan looks forward to continuing and deepening our multilayered strategic partnership with the U.S. — our foundational partner — including in counterterrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan,” he said.

Other Afghan officials were much more aggressive in their comments, calling on Mr. Biden to ditch Mr. Trump’s approach.

“We hope that Biden does not follow in the footsteps of Trump, who has discredited the U.S. and committed a betrayal both to the U.S. and Afghanistan through the deal with the Taliban,” Hamidullah Tokhi, a lawmaker from Afghanistan’s Zabul province, told Arab News this week. “Biden needs to think about U.S. and Afghanistani honor. He can pull the troops out, but not in a hasty manner. First, he needs to reconcile the two sides.”

Meanwhile, military clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continue. The bloody battles have led the U.S. in recent weeks to step up its own bombing campaign against Taliban targets to keep them from capturing key strategic territory in Helmand province and elsewhere.

U.S. officials also have warned recently that the Taliban’s continued violence could undermine the very foundation of the peace deal.

Taliban leaders are brushing off those warnings. In its own statement this week, the insurgent group pressed Mr. Biden to continue along the path set out by Mr. Trump.

“The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the Taliban said. “Withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, noninterference in our country and not allowing the use of Afghanistan to threaten America are in the interest of both our peoples and our nations.”

About 12,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan when the peace deal was signed in February. That number has steadily dropped and now stands at about 4,500.

Administration officials have said it will be down to 2,500 by early next year. Those figures offer a reminder of how dramatically America’s footprint in Afghanistan has changed over the past 10 years.

A decade ago, Mr. Biden and then-President Obama — reluctantly — presided over a massive surge of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, with the number ultimately topping 100,000 in 2010. It was down to about 8,400 when the two men left office in January 2017.

Now, Mr. Biden’s official campaign platform stresses that Washington can no longer stay “entrenched in unwinnable conflicts” in chaotic corners of the world, and promises that the former vice president will bring home “the vast majority” of U.S. troops from the Middle East.

Some analysts say such comments — and Mr. Biden’s use of Trump-esque terms such as “forever wars” — are evidence of just how significantly Mr. Trump’s “America First” policy has reshaped foreign affairs conversations and dictated the options for those who come after him.

“One of the many ironies in President Trump’s legacy is that while he was further to the left on key aspects of foreign policy and international trade than President Obama, the political left gave him no credit for it,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Trump campaign national security adviser and Pentagon spokesman.

Pentagon: Taliban violence ‘could undermine the agreement’ with U.S.

Taliban violence ‘could undermine the agreement’ with U.S., Pentagon says

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Journalists photograph inside Kabul University after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The brazen attack by gunmen who stormed the university has left many dead and wounded in the Afghan capital. The assault sparked an hours-long … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang and Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Continued Taliban attacks across Afghanistan “could undermine the agreement” the insurgent group struck with the Trump administration earlier this year that would allow U.S. troops to come home next year, a key Pentagon watchdog reported Thursday.

In its regular quarterly report to Congress released Thursday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan grew by 50% in the July-September window when compared to the previous quarter. Some recent attacks in areas such as Helmand province have led to major retaliatory U.S. air strikes in support of Afghan national security forces.

The radical Islamist group has begun power-sharing talks with the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani in Qatar even as the violence has intensified, but there is little sign of early progress in the negotiations.

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Observers warn that growing violence across the country and the Taliban’s unwillingness to halt its attacks ultimately could cause the U.S.-Taliban peace pact to unravel. Other terror groups, notably Islamic State, have also stepped up violence against the Ghani government despite a Taliban pledge not to support their efforts.

The violence “could undermine the agreement,” Pentagon officials told SIGAR, according to the report.

The deal, struck in February, called for a reduction in violence across the country but did not require a full cease-fire. SIGAR auditors said that the Taliban “is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine” the Afghan government but also is intentionally keeping its attacks “at a level it perceives is within the bounds” of the agreement.

Indeed, the administration continues to hold up its end of the bargain despite the growing conflict across Afghanistan, and the Trump White House has announced plans to cut the approximately 4,000 to 5,000 combat troops in half in the coming months.

Most recently, Islamic State gunmen on Monday launched a brazen attack on Kabul University, killing at least 22 students and wounding more than 20 others in what Afghan government officials described as a “despicable act of terror.”

The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack, and the Islamic State later claimed responsibility.

However, veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr. Trump’s Afghan-born special envoy to the talks, has repeatedly said that the Taliban has kept up its end of the deal by not launching attacks on U.S. or coalition forces.

Over 1,600 civilians were wounded in Afghanistan between July and September, according to the report, and 876 civilians were killed — a 43% increase from the previous quarter. The Taliban was responsible for 42% of the increase in casualties, while 55% was attributed to “unknown insurgent.”

The number of casualties that Afghan government forces were responsible for — 212 — more than doubled this quarter compared to the prior time period. The report noted that casualties are down 36% from the same time last year.

SIGAR’s report comes amid debate surrounding the process of withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, approaching the 20th year of the longest war in American history.

The number of American troops in the country, which stood at about 12,000 when the deal was signed in February, is dropping and will be down to 2,500 by early next year, administration officials have said.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival, has said he would continue to draw down troops but also believes a small U.S. force presence should be maintained to keep terror groups in check.

The February deal also required the Taliban to cease attacks on Americans stationed in the country. SIGAR said it asked U.S. Forces-Afghanistan whether there have been any suspected Taliban attacks on Americans.

“The question drew a classified response,” SIGAR said.

American forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, when then-President George W. Bush ordered a military invasion to topple the Taliban government and root out al Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Trump has dubbed the conflict an “endless war” and has vowed to bring U.S. forces home after nearly two decades in the country.

Families step in at Kabul COVID-19 ward to care for patients

Families step in at Kabul COVID-19 ward to care for patients

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Afghan doctors help a patient to breathe through an oxygen mask in the Intensive Care Unit ward for COVID-19 patients at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) more >

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By Tameen Akhgar

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The intensive care unit at the Afghan capital’s premier hospital for COVID-19 patients is a medical nightmare — and a stark warning how the country’s war-ravaged health care system risks collapsing.

Family members, without protective equipment and only a few wearing face masks, help care for the patients lying in hospital beds. They say they have no choice because there are not enough nurses and other medical staff.

The next-of-kin often guard their loved one’s oxygen tank, fearing it could be stolen because there is a shortage of just about everything, including oxygen cylinders.

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The 100-bed Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in western Kabul is one of only two facilities for coronavirus testing and treatment in the Afghan capital. Newly graduated Afghan doctors have joined the 370-member staff after many of the hospital’s experienced physicians walked out a few months ago, fearing the virus.

The 92-square-meter (1,000-square-foot) ICU ward has only 13 beds, and COVID-19 patients admitted here are in critical condition; few are hooked up to ventilators, some of the others rely on oxygen tanks.

Assadullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, says he struggled to stay awake night after night at the ICU ward, guarding the tank that kept his father alive. In his father’s final days, the relative of another patient came over, threatening to take the tank.

“Your father is dying but mine is alive, he told me … in such a situation, how could I have left my father alone,” said Assadullah, who lost his father to the virus on Tuesday.

Abdul Rahman, 42, feels the same way and rushes to rub his 70-year-old mother’s back every time she coughs.

A few beds away, 64-year-old Mohammad Amin’s left foot has turned black from gangrene that set in after a blood clot due to the virus. His son and wife tend to him as best they can, but they say it’s exhausting.

For the hospital’s director, Hakimullah Saleh, every staffer is a hero, risking their own life to provide critical care. They face so many work challenges, he said, on top of which they sometimes have to deal with “threats” from distraught families who feel the hospital is not doing enough.

One of Saleh’s heroes, Dr. Jawad Norzai, is relentless in his devotion to the patients, he said. Along with his job as chief surgeon, Norzai visits over 60 patients a day and finds the time to train new doctors, Saleh said.

The 32-year-old Norzai got his medical diploma in 2013 and worked first for private hospitals, joining the Afghan-Japan only after hearing how many of the staff had left. Norzai said he, like many medical professionals, contracted the virus but recovered. He said he infected several of his family members but luckily, they also recovered.

Another one of the Afghan-Japan doctors who recovered from the virus is Mozhgan Nazehad, 35. “I spent three nights awake because of severe pain, back pain, and lower limb pain, that pain I will never forget,” said Nazehad, who lives apart from her family to keep them safe.

The other hospital that treats COVID-19 patients is the Ali Jenah, funded by Pakistan, a 200-bed but less-equipped facility, also in western Kabul. There is also an isolation center in the dormitory of the Kabul University, but it does not provide treatment.

According to the Health Ministry, more than 1,700 medical workers — including 40 at the Afghan-Japan hospital — were infected while providing care to COVID-19 patients; 26 have died.

Afghanistan has so far recorded almost 35,000 cases of the virus, including 1,094 deaths, with the number of infections thought to far outnumber the official tally.

The International Rescue Committee warned last month that Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster because the government is unable to test some 80% of possible coronavirus cases.

The Health Ministry said it now has the capacity to test only 2,500 people per day. Last month, 10,000 to 20,000 people were coming daily, asking to be tested, but the government had to turn many down. Afghanistan has one doctor for every 3,500 people, less than a fifth of the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday that in addition to the COVID-19 health crisis faced in Afghanistan, the socioeconomic impact of the virus could become catastrophic with 12.4 million people — one third of the country’s population — already considered to be living at “emergency” levels of food shortages.

Seemingly indicative of the fractured health care system, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for economic development, Yosuf Ghaznafar, went to Turkey when he became ill with COVID-19. He died of the disease there in early July, according to a statement from the presidency – the most senior Afghan official so far to die of the virus.