KABUL: Afghan security forces inspect the remains of a vehicle at the site of a bomb blast in Kabul yesterday. – AFP

KABUL: Foreign forces should hold ‘no hope’ of keeping a military presence in Afghanistan after the US and NATO withdraw troops, the Taleban said yesterday, warning the security of embassies and airports would be the responsibility of Afghans. It comes as western diplomats and military officials scramble to work out how to provide security for any future civilian presence they keep in the country.

Turkey has reportedly said it is prepared to keep troops in Afghanistan to protect Kabul airport, the main exit route for western diplomats and humanitarian workers. “Every inch of Afghan soil, its airports and security of foreign embassies and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of the Afghans, consequently no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence in our country,” a statement issued by the Taleban yesterday said. “If anyone does make such a mistake, the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate shall view them as occupiers and shall take a stance against them,” it added.

The United States is in the final stages of completing a military drawdown, alongside NATO forces, by September 11 — twenty years after they invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban. The decision to end America’s longest war has raised fears that an emboldened Taliban could topple the Western-backed government in Kabul. The possibility of keeping troops in Afghanistan is expected to be discussed during a meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels tomorrow.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month the alliance would provide funding to help run Kabul airport and train Afghanistan’s special forces after it had left. Turkish media later reported that Ankara was willing to maintain a presence in the country, including at the country’s main gateway, if NATO provided financial support. The Taleban has attempted to calm foreign missions by saying they could “continue their operations as usual”, after Australia closed its embassy citing an “increasingly uncertain security environment”. The militants have in recent weeks made territorial gains in and around the country, including in provinces close to the capital.

On Saturday, at least seven civilians were killed in two separate explosions in the city, the Interior Ministry said, the latest in a series of bombings targeting buses. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Meanwhile, a Greek court yesterday sentenced four young Afghan asylum seekers accused of starting fires that burnt down Europe’s largest migrant camp last year to 10 years in prison each. Defense lawyers said the court in Chios found them guilty of intentional arson.

The Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesbos was home to more than 10,000 people before it was destroyed by two fires in September 2020. No media were allowed inside the courtroom on Friday and Saturday owing to coronavirus precautions. Two other Afghan youths were jailed in a correctional facility near Athens for five years over the same case in March. Defense lawyers for the Afghans have said they did not get a fair trial.

They say three of them had documents showing they were under 18 at the time of arrest but were not recognized as minors by the Greek state. The trial is based in large part on the testimony of another Afghan asylum-seeker who identified the six as the perpetrators. According to the defense lawyers, the witness was not in court Friday and did not appear for the trial last March as he could not be located. The defendants claim they were targeted by the witness, an ethnic Pashtun, as all six are Hazara, a long-persecuted minority in Afghanistan.

Other witnesses for the prosecution were police officers, firefighters called to the scene in September 2020 and staff from the European Asylum Service and non-governmental groups who were working at the camp. Built in 2013 to house a maximum of 3,000 people, the Moria camp became badly overcrowded in 2015 as a huge wave of people began arriving on the Greek islands on small boats from nearby Turkey. The camp-home to asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia seeking a better life in the European Union-quickly became a byword for squalor and violence.

The two fires broke out on September 8 and 9 last year as tensions soared in the camp over the coronavirus pandemic. Witnesses told AFP a dispute had broken out as some 200 migrants refused to quarantine after either testing positive for COVID-19 or coming into contact with someone infected. Around 13,000 asylum-seekers, among them families with children, pregnant women and people with disabilities, had to sleep in the open for a week after the camp was destroyed. Authorities have since built a temporary camp on Lesbos that is hosting around 6,000 people. – AFP