The Taliban are creating a large-scale camera surveillance network for Afghan cities that could involve repurposing a plan crafted by the Americans before their 2021 pullout, an interior ministry spokesman told Reuters, as authorities seek to supplement thousands of cameras already across the capital, Kabul.
The Taliban administration — which has publicly said it is focused on restoring security and clamping down on Da’ish, which has claimed many major attacks in Afghan cities — has also consulted with Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei about potential cooperation, the spokesman said.
Preventing attacks by international militant groups – including prominent organisations such as Da’ish – is at the heart of the interaction between the Taliban and many foreign nations, including the US and China, according to readouts from those meetings. But some analysts question the cash-strapped regime’s ability to fund the program, and rights groups have expressed concern that any resources will be used to crackdown on protesters.
Details of how the Taliban intend to expand and manage mass surveillance, including obtaining the US plan, have not been previously reported.
The mass camera rollout, which will involve a focus on “important points” in Kabul and elsewhere, is part of a new security strategy that will take four years to be fully implemented, Ministry of Interior spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani told Reuters.
“At the present we are working on a Kabul security map, which is (being completed) by security experts and (is taking) lots of time,” he said. “We already have two maps, one which was made by USA for the previous government and second by Turkey.”
He did not detail when the Turkish plan was made.
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A US State Department spokesperson said Washington was not “partnering” with the Taliban and has “made clear to the Taliban that it is their responsibility to ensure that they give no safe haven to terrorists.”
A Turkish government spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment.
Qani said the Taliban had a “simple chat” about the potential network with Huawei [RIC:RIC:HWT.UL] in August, but no contracts or firm plans had been reached.
Bloomberg News reported in August that Huawei had reached “verbal agreement” with the Taliban about a contract to install a surveillance system, citing a person familiar with the discussions.
Huawei told Reuters in September that “no plan was discussed” during the meeting.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she was not aware of specific discussions but added: “China has always supported the peace and reconstruction process in Afghanistan and supported Chinese enterprises to carry out relevant practical cooperation.”
Electricity cuts, rights concerns
There are over 62,000 cameras in Kabul and other cities that are monitored from a central control room, according to the Taliban. The last major update to Kabul’s camera system occurred in 2008, according to the former government, which relied heavily on Western-led international forces for security.
When NATO-led international forces were gradually withdrawing in January 2021, then-vice president Amrullah Saleh said his government would roll out a huge upgrade of Kabul’s camera surveillance system. He told reporters the $100 million plan was backed by the NATO coalition.
“The arrangement we had planned in early 2021 was different,” Saleh told Reuters in September, adding that the “infrastructure” for the 2021 plan had been destroyed.
It was not clear if the plan Saleh referenced was similar to the ones that the Taliban say they have obtained, nor if the administration would modify them.
Jonathan Schroden, an expert on Afghanistan with the Center for Naval Analyses, said a surveillance system would be “useful for the Taliban as it seeks to prevent groups like the Da’ish … from attacking Taliban members or government positions in Kabul.”
The Taliban already closely monitor urban centres with security force vehicles and regular checkpoints.
Rights advocates and opponents of the regime are concerned enhanced surveillance might target civil society members and protesters.
Though the Taliban rarely confirm arrests, the Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 64 journalists have been detained since the takeover. Protests against restrictions on women in Kabul have been broken up forcefully by security forces, according to protesters, videos and Reuters witnesses.
Implementing a mass surveillance system “under the guise of ‘national security’ sets a template for the Taliban to continue its draconian policies that violate fundamental rights,” said Matt Mahmoudi from Amnesty International.
The Taliban strongly denies that an upgraded surveillance system would breach the rights of Afghans. Qani said the system was comparable with what other major cities utilize and that it would be operated in line with Islamic Sharia law, which prevents recording in private spaces.
The plan faces practical challenges, security analysts say.
Intermittent daily power cuts in Afghanistan mean cameras connected to the central grid are unlikely to provide consistent feeds. Only 40% of Afghans have access to electricity, according to the state-owned power provider.
The Taliban also have to find funding after a massive economic contraction and the withdrawal of much aid following their takeover.
The administration said in 2022 that it has an annual budget of over $2 billion, of which defence spending is the largest component, according to the Taliban army chief.
The discussion with Huawei occurred several months after China met with Pakistan and the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, after which the parties stressed cooperation on counter-terrorism. Tackling militancy is also a key aspect of the 2020 troop-withdrawal deal the United States struck with the Taliban.
China has publicly declared its concern over the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an armed separatist organisation in its western Xinjiang region. Security officials and UN reports say ETIM likely has a small number of fighters in Afghanistan. ETIM couldn’t be reached for comment.
Da’ish has also threatened foreigners in Afghanistan. Its fighters attacked a hotel popular with Chinese businesspeople last year, which left several Chinese citizens wounded. A Russian diplomat was also killed in one of its attacks.
The Taliban denies that militancy threatens their rule and say Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks elsewhere. They have publicly announced raids on Da’ish cells in Kabul.
“Since early 2023, Taliban raids in Afghanistan have removed at least eight key (Da’ish Afghanistan) leaders, some responsible for external plotting,” said US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West at a Sept. 12 public seminar.
A July UN monitoring report said there were up to 6,000 Da’ish fighters and their family members in Afghanistan. Analysts say urban surveillance will not fully address their presence.
The Afghan “home base” locations of Da’ish fighters are in the eastern mountainous areas, said Schroden. “So while cameras in the cities may help prevent attacks … they’re unlikely to contribute much to their ultimate defeat.”
Hundreds still stranded, plants closed in India’s Chennai
Volunteers waded through stagnant water to hand out food and supplies, and some manufacturing plants remained shut in India’s southern tech-and-auto hub district of Chennai on Friday, four days after cyclone Michaung lashed the coast.
At least 14 people, most of them in Chennai and its state of Tamil Nadu, have died in the flooding, triggered by torrential rains that started on Monday.
The cyclone itself made landfall further north in Andhra Pradesh state on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said some low-lying areas of the state were still inundated and government officials and volunteers were taking supplies to people stuck in their homes in slums and other areas.
The larger Chennai area is home to the Indian units of several global firms including Hyundai Motor (005380.KS), Daimler and Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW) and Pegatron (4938.TW) which do contract manufacturing for Apple (AAPL.O).
While many of them including Pegatron and Foxconn resumed operations within a day or two of the cyclone making landfall, some plants of the TVS group located in the worst-affected areas are yet to open, industry sources said.
Adani Krishnapatnam Port (APSE.NS) in Andhra Pradesh, said on Friday the cyclone had “very badly affected” its operations and it was declaring a force majeure period starting Dec. 3.
Force majeure is a notice used to describe events outside a company’s control, such as a natural disaster, which usually releases it from contractual obligation without penalty.
State-run Madras Fertilizers (MDFT.NS) notified stock exchanges that its Chennai plant has been shut and is tentatively expected to resume operations within two to four weeks.
Information technology (IT) services providers told staff to work from home for the week, while schools and colleges closed. A few schools and colleges were converted into temporary shelters.
This week’s floods in Chennai brought back memories of the extensive damage caused by floods eight years ago which killed around 290 people.
In Andhra Pradesh, the damage from the cyclone was relatively contained, with roads damaged and trees uprooted as big waves crashed into the coast.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Chennai on Thursday and announced New Delhi will release a second instalment of 4.5 billion rupees ($54 million) to Tamil Nadu to help manage the damage. The federal government has also approved a 5.6 billion-rupee project for flood management in Chennai, he said.
Chennai residents questioned the ability of the city’s infrastructure to handle extreme weather.
“Not only has urbanisation itself caused a problem, but the nature of the urbanisation has preyed upon open spaces, holding areas like marshlands and flood plains,” social activist Nityanand Jayaraman said.
Experts have, however, said better stormwater drainage systems would not have been able to prevent the flooding caused by very heavy and extremely heavy rains.
“This solution would have helped a lot in moderate and heavy rainfall, but not in very heavy and extremely heavy rains,” Raj Bhagat P, a civil engineer and geo-analytics expert, said on Wednesday.
Gunman described as struggling academic with ‘target list’
The gunman who killed three professors and wounded one at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was a financially struggling academic whose job applications were rejected by several higher-education institutions in Nevada, police said on Thursday.
Anthony James Polito, 67, also had mailed nearly two dozen suspicious letters to faculty at universities across the country and had prepared a “target list” of people at both UNLV and a North Carolina university where he once worked, police said.
Polito, facing eviction from his home in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, had a criminal record of computer trespass dating to 1992 in Virginia, but police said there were no advance signs of violence.
The Taurus 9mm handgun he used in the shooting was legally purchased in 2022, according to Sheriff Kevin McMahill of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He said Polito, who police shot dead after the attacks, was believed to have acted alone.
The precise motive for the rampage remained to be determined, though officials said it appeared students were not the primary target.
All four people shot on Wednesday inside Beam Hall, the campus building that houses UNLV’s business school, were faculty members.
Two of the dead were identified as professor Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, and assistant professor Patricia Navarro Velez, 39. The identity of the third slain professor was being withheld pending notification of family.
The surviving victim remained hospitalized, and his condition worsened on Thursday, McMahill said.
Letters and list
Detectives learned Polito had visited a post office shortly before the shooting and mailed 22 letters with no return address to university personnel across the United States, and had a list of people he was seeking on the UNLV campus as well as faculty from his former employer, East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.
His LinkedIn profile described Polito as a semi-retired associate professor of business who taught at East Carolina from 2001-2017.
Authorities intercepted the letters before any were delivered and found a suspicious white powdery substance in at least one of them, McMahill said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The letters’ contents remained under investigation, the sheriff told reporters, warning that anyone in higher education who received such an envelope should exercise caution and contact authorities.
He said officials were working to notify the intended recipients and had contacted nearly everyone on the separate target list to make sure all were safe.
“None of the individuals listed on the target list became a victim,” he told reporters.
He said detectives also had uncovered evidence that Polito was struggling financially, including an eviction notice taped to the entrance of his apartment. He said a document that appeared to be a will was found inside.
“We know he had applied numerous times for jobs with several Nevada higher-education institutions,” McMahill added, but he did not say whether UNLV was one of them.
Police searching Polito’s home also recovered ammunition similar to the 150 rounds he was carrying.
The UNLV campus will remain closed through Friday. The UNLV website said classes had been canceled through Dec. 10.
Israel says Reuters journalist Abdallah was killed in combat zone
The Israeli military, responding on Friday to a Reuters investigation that determined its forces killed a Reuters journalist in southern Lebanon on Oct. 13, said the incident took place in an active combat zone and was under review.
Without directly addressing the death of visuals journalist Issam Abdallah, a military statement said Lebanese Hezbollah fighters had at the time attacked across the border and Israeli forces opened fire to prevent a suspected armed infiltration.
A Reuters special report published on Thursday found that an Israeli tank crew killed Abdallah and wounded six reporters by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.
Israel’s statement on Friday said that on Oct. 13, Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants launched an attack on multiple targets within Israeli territory along the Lebanese border.
“One incident involved the firing of an anti-tank missile, which struck the border fence near the village Hanita. Following the launch of the anti-tank missile, concerns arose over the potential infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory,” the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.
“In response, the IDF used artillery and tank fire to prevent the infiltration. The IDF is aware of the claim that journalists who were in the area were killed.
“The area is an active combat zone, where active fire takes place and being in this area is dangerous. The incident is currently under review,” it said.
The strikes killed Abdullah, 37, and severely wounded Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi, 28, just over a kilometre from the Israeli border near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab.
Amnesty International said on Thursday that the Israeli strikes were likely to have been a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime.
In a separate report Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the two Israeli strikes were “an apparently deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime” and said those responsible must be held to account. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday it was important that Israel’s inquiry into the killing reach a conclusion and for the results to be seen.
“My understanding is that Israel has initiated such an investigation, and it will be important to see that investigation come to a conclusion, and to see the results of the investigation,” Blinken said at a press conference.
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