Indian Photojournalist Killed in Clashes in Afghanistan as Taliban Takes Over Pak Border Area

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Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who was working with news agency Reuters, has been killed in clashes in Spin Boldak district in Kandahar. He was covering the situation in the province as Taliban took over the key border crossing with Pakistan.

In one of his last tweets on July 13, Siddique posted a video of the vehicle he was travelling in being hit by a rocket. “The Humvee in which I was travelling with other special forces was also targeted by at least 3 RPG rounds and other weapons. I was lucky to be safe and capture the visual of one of the rockets hitting the armour plate overhead.

Afghan forces clashed on Friday with Taliban fighters in Spin Boldak after launching an operation to retake the key border crossing with Pakistan, as regional capitals stepped up efforts to get the warring sides talking.

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.

The fight for the border comes as a war of words heated up between the Kabul government and Islamabad after the Afghan Vice President accused the Pakistani military of providing “close air support to Taliban in certain areas”.

Pakistan 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”. “We acknowledge Afghan government’s right to undertake actions on its sovereign territory,” it added.

Residents of Spin Boldak, which fell to the Taliban on Wednesday, said the Taliban and 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 help 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.

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.

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