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Afghanistan: Taliban fighters claim they ‘have changed’ and Afghanistan now ‘safest country in the world’ | World News

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The Taliban fighters we are with are on a charm offensive. “We have changed. We have changed a lot,” one of them tells us.

“Praise God, our behaviour is very good now…we are polite, our manners are good and our behaviour is much improved. We’re much better than the last government. Kabul is safe now. Security is good.”

Hafez Sultan Ahmed looks young. He is young and when I remark on it, he says he’s 30.

Hafez Sultan Ahmed, left, a deputy Taliban commander
Image:
Hafez Sultan Ahmed, left, a deputy Taliban commander

But he’s been fighting those he calls “infidels” for the past 14 years. The infidels are the Western troops who invaded his country two decades ago – the Americans, the British and all the other foreign troops who joined the Alliance against the Taliban ruling Afghanistan in 2001.

“When I first started fighting, I couldn’t even grow a beard,” he says smiling.

But these men crowded around us with curious questions about our views on them, are also proud of their numerous battles, fighting – and killing – over the past two decades.

A group of Taliban sharing a meal
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A group of Taliban sharing a meal

This unit were stationed in Faryab in the north and fought first Norwegian soldiers and then Americans.

Hafez tells us he’s killed “too many to count”.

“It was war,” he says, “so I don’t know how many I killed… Once a bomb landed and it didn’t explode so we made five mines out of it and blew five of their armoured vehicles to pieces.”

He seemed to take a peculiar pride out of killing his enemies with the same bomb aimed at him and his fellow fighters.

A Taliban fighter with an American-style weapon
Image:
A Taliban fighter with an American-style weapon

I ask him how he feels about killing and he smiles. “It was jihad – Holy War – and in Islam we don’t regret this. If I had a hundred lives and even if I was blown to bits, we are still ready to lose our lives for Islam…my greatest joy and my sweetest moments have been doing jihad against the infidels.”

Along with the fighters around him, he really believes they have transformed the security in the country and in the capital city.

“Look the streets are safe now. You couldn’t drive round Kabul before safely because there were too many criminals. Now everyone can.

“We are much better than the previous government. Now Afghanistan is the safest country in the world.”

The boast is unlikely to be believed by many. The Islamic State suicide bombing just at the end of last month which killed nearly a hundred civilians including 13 US service members, seems to have been quickly disregarded.

A group of Taliban sharing a meal
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A group of Taliban sharing a meal

But it is true, our Sky News team has managed to move around the country and the capital with comparative ease having secured accreditation from the acting government.

There are multiple armed Taliban checkpoints where all our paperwork is checked and double-checked – but these have often been accompanied by a cheery “welcome, welcome”.

But while the Taliban we’ve come across appear to have gone out of their way to facilitate foreign journalists, it’s clearly a very different picture for the Afghans.

They’ve been detained and beaten and in some cases just disappeared. When I bring this up there’re apologies from the Taliban we’re with.

Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford filming with the Taliban
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Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford filming with the Taliban

“Some people are rude and don’t know how to behave but our leaders will deal with this and it won’t happen again. We are sorry for that,” we’re told.

We’re invited to join them on patrol but something gets lost in the translation. I am pretty sure they thought just Sky’s cameraman Richie Mockler was going to hop on to the back of their pickup truck.

When I too climb in behind him, there’s a sudden panic amongst the men at this foreign woman in such close proximity. They immediately disembark, leaving just one who’d have had to shoulder barge me out of the way to join the exodus.

Two of them are cajoled by their seniors to get back in the vehicle but one insists on sitting with his back to me the entire journey and the other hides most of the time behind his shawl looking the very picture of shame and embarrassment.

The Taliban leaders know they have to show they’ve moved on and progressed but some are finding it harder than others.

The country relies heavily on foreign aid contributions and support – all of which is now hanging in the balance with this sudden power change.

Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford filming with the Taliban
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Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford filming with the Taliban

The sudden collapse of the last government; the announcement of a 33-strong all-male acting Taliban government made up mostly of ethnic Pashtuns plus the crackdown on demonstrations and the media has left international donors worried.

More than worried – fearful and uncertain of what is going to follow. Two of the new cabinet have close links with Al Qaeda and five were Guantanamo detainees.

The Taliban hierarchy understand they need international recognition if they’re going to be able to function at all in the future.

But persuading the world they have changed may be their biggest battle yet.

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Russia completes controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany | World News

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The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has been completed, Russian energy company Gazprom has said.

The pipeline will double the country’s exporting capacity and runs through the Baltic Sea, from Ust Luga in the east, near St Petersburg, to the German town of Greifswald, near the country’s border with Poland.

In doing so, it bypasses Ukraine, which has traditionally been the main route for Russian gas.

Workers are seen at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia
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Workers are seen at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia

Moscow and Kiev have been in dispute since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine earns billions from gas transit fees, and agreed a deal last year with Russia after long-running talks.

Russia said it would not start using Nord Stream 2 until a German regulator gives its approval.

Carlos Torres Diaz, head of Power and Gas Markets at analysis firm Rystad Energy, said it will take time for gas to
flow via Nord Stream 2.

“There hasn’t really been a reaction from the market so far so I guess this just also confirms expectations that no
commercial deliveries are expected in the short term,” he said.

The Kremlin said “everyone” was interested in Nord Stream 2 getting clearance for gas supplies.

In order to gain an operating licence the pipeline must meet European rules requiring the owners of pipelines to be different from the suppliers of the gas that flows in them to ensure fair competition.

Gazprom, which is state-controlled, began building the pipeline, which is 1,200 km long, five years ago.

The $11bn (£8bn) project ran into problems in 2019 when a major contractor stopped work after the US imposed sanctions on firms involved.

Then-US president Donald Trump feared that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia too much power over European gas supplies, potentially shutting off gas to Ukraine and Poland, who are both bypassed by the route.

More than a third of Europe’s gas needs already come from Gazprom.

The Nord Stream 2 gas line landfall facility entrance in Lubmin, Germany
Image:
The Nord Stream 2 gas line landfall facility entrance in Lubmin, Germany

Along with an initial pipeline that opened in 2012 called Nord Stream 1, the project’s completion will increase Russia’s annual export capacity to 110 billion cubic metres, about half of what Russia sells to Europe each year.

Construction restarted about a year after the sanctions, with Russia using its own vessels.

Germany, who has long supported the project, agreed a deal with the US in July to allow for the pipeline’s completion without further sanctions.

The two onshore pipe exits of the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2 are pictured at the landfall facility in Lubmin, Germany, September 10, 2020. Picture taken with a drone.  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
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The two onshore pipe exits of Nord Stream 2 pictured in Germany in 2020

Both countries committed to impose costs on Russia to prevent it from using the pipeline as a political weapon.

They also agreed to support Ukraine and Poland by funding alternative energy and development projects.

Apart from Nord Stream there are two other lines taking gas from Russia to Europe – the Brotherhood pipeline which goes through Ukraine, and the Yamal-Europe pipeline which passes through Belarus and Poland.

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Austrian man mummified dead mother to keep receiving her benefit payments worth over £42,000 | World News

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An Austrian man mummified his 89-year-old mother, who died more than a year ago, so that he could keep receiving her benefits.

Austrian police discovered the woman’s body in the son’s cellar and said he had kept it after she died of old age last June.

The 66-year-old suspect used icepacks to freeze his mother’s body and guard against the smell, wrapping her in bandages to absorb any bodily fluid.

“When he ran out of all these things, he covered his mother with cat litter and finally the corpse was mummified,” Helmut Gufler, in charge of the police’s social security fraud unit, told public broadcaster ORF.

The perpetrator told his brother that she was in hospital when he came to see her and asked where she was.

The second son decided not to visit her there because he assumed she would not recognise him due to her dementia, according to police.

Her body was stored in the basement of the home she shared with her son near Innsbruck, in the Tyrol region.

He used to receive his mother’s pension and care allowance by mail every month, but a new postman recently asked to see her.

The suspect refused and was reported to the authorities, who found the woman’s body on Saturday.

He is facing allegations of benefit fraud and hiding a corpse after illegally receiving about €50,000 (£42,600) in benefits.

The accused told police he had wanted to eventually report his mother’s death.

“He testified to us that he had planned to do this because he thought it couldn’t go on forever,” police said.

“But he kept postponing this point in time.”

The woman is believed to have died from old age last year in the presence of a Romanian nurse in their home.

Police believe the nurse then told the man she had died, but have been unable to contact her yet because she has since returned to her native country.

A post-mortem is being carried out but officers said there are no indications of third-party negligence.

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