Stampede kills 11 Afghans seeking visas to leave country

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least 11 women were trampled to death when a stampede broke out Wednesday among thousands of Afghans waiting in a soccer stadium to get visas to leave the country, officials said.

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Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for the governor of the eastern Nangarhar province, said another 13 people, mostly women, were injured at the stadium, where they were trying to get visas to enter neighboring Pakistan. He said most of those who died were elderly people from across Afghanistan.

Separately, at least 36 Afghan police were killed in an ambush by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, officials said.

It was the deadliest attack since the Taliban and the Afghan government began holding long-delayed peace talks last month, part of a process launched under a deal signed between the United States and the insurgents in February. The talks are seen as the country's best chance for peace after decades of war.

Rahim Danish, director of the main hospital in northern Takhar province, confirmed receiving 36 bodies and said another eight security forces were wounded.

An Afghan security official said the forces were in a convoy that was ambushed. The official, who was not authorized to brief media on the event and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said several police Humvees were set ablaze.

Jawad Hijri, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the deputy police chief was among those killed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking to Parliament, asked “why are the Taliban killing Afghans?"

He said the Taliban still believe in a “false narrative of conquest" following a spate of recent attacks, especially in Helmand province.

The Pakistani Consulate in Nangarhar was closed for almost eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Anticipating a large crowd, officials decided to use the stadium and assigned 320 staffers to help manage the process, Khogyani said.

The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul said it has issued more than 19,000 visas in the past week alone after Islamabad approved a friendlier visa policy and reopened the border in September following months of closure.

Millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan to escape war and economic hardship, while thousands travel back and forth for work and business, or to receive health care.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. government watchdog known as SIGAR, which monitors the billions of dollars Washington spends in war-ravaged Afghanistan, released a new report.

It said that as of December 2019, Congress had appropriated nearly $134 billion since 2002 for Afghanistan reconstruction. Of that amount, SIGAR has reviewed approximately $63 billion and concluded that approximately $19 billion, or 30%, was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed.