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Diaa Hadid

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U.S. forces and their allies may have largely left Afghanistan. But the country's four-decade-long war continues. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

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The Taliban are overrunning districts in Afghanistan. Last week, you'll remember, U.S. forces withdrew from Bagram air base, which effectively ended 20 years of American involvement in Afghanistan.

FREMANTLE, Australia – It was pub choir night on a recent evening at a watering hole in the Western Australian port city of Fremantle. Nobody was masked. The choir leader urged people to cram in tighter for better sound. Drinks in hand, dozens of patrons launched into an Australian classic, "You'd better be home soon."

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KABUL, Afghanistan – Armed men opened fire late Tuesday on dozens of deminers who worked for a British charity, killing 10 men and injuring 16 others. The incident occurred in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan, according to the HALO Trust charity and the Afghan interior ministry.

KABUL, Afghanistan — At a dusty bus station on this city's outskirts, ticket hawkers call out for passengers to the southern city of Kandahar. It's a 300-mile route — and the Taliban control key parts of the highway.

There are gun battles along the route, and the Taliban undertake violent ambushes of Afghan forces.

In Malala Yousafzai's 23 years, she's won the Nobel Peace Prize. She runs a global girls' education charity. She graduated from Oxford University. She's known by only one name, like Obama. This month, she was a guest star on the Friends reunion. This week, she made the cover of British Vogue.

The headline: "I Know The Power A Young Girl Carries In Her Heart: The Extraordinary Life Of Malala."

KABUL, Afghanistan — Shugofa Nayebi recently divorced her husband, signed up for dental college and began working in a hair salon doing eyelash extensions to pay for her studies.

"I'm independent now," Nayebi, 32, says over the din of hairdryers and music in the Shabnam Salon in an upscale Kabul neighborhood.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Sayed Ul-Shuhada school in Kabul was once a place of tentative hope. Impoverished Afghan children studied there: girls and boys who worked as carpet weavers to pay for their books. An Afghan aid group donated a library and teachers helped students paint colorful murals.

On Saturday, it became the site of one of Afghanistan's worst attacks in at least a year, when a series of blasts appeared to deliberately target its female students.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Afghanistan over the weekend, dozens of girls and young women were killed in an attack outside a school for girls in Kabul. Is this a sign of what's to come as U.S. forces withdraw? Here's NPR's Diaa Hadid.

Updated April 29, 2021 at 2:14 PM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When the Biden administration took office, American diplomats got to work on a plan to reenergize Afghanistan's sputtering peace talks.

Editor's note: This story includes details of violence that readers may find disturbing.

KABUL, Afghanistan — When it started, the boy had been dozing on a mat in a room crammed with family visiting for a wedding. When it ended, his uncle and five other relatives, including small children, were dead.

KABUL, Afghanistan — It's not the risk of contracting COVID-19 that keeps journalist Fatima Roshanian home. It's the murders.

Roshanian scaled back her movements after she found her name on three different lists circulating on Afghan social media, claiming to be of people the Taliban want to kill. On one list, she's number 11.

"They are after people who are well-known, who are against the values of this society, who speak out," she says.

The pandemic and polio are colliding in Pakistan.

It's definitely harder for the country to keep up its efforts to wipe out this highly contagious disease. (Pakistan is one of the few pockets in the world where it's still circulating.) But the lessons learned from its polio effort are proving helpful for the coronavirus vaccination campaign.

The backstory

First, a bit of background is in order.

Keeping an eye on vaccine snatchers. Turning dial tones into public health messages. Selling vaccines to the wealthy to make sure they don't elbow their way to the front of the line.

These are among the strategies being employed by Pakistan as it gears up for an extraordinary task – acquiring enough vaccines for its enormous population of 220 million.

Updated 6:29 p.m. ET

Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the release on Thursday of a British national who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

An Afghan woman stands over her granddaughter in a Kabul hospital ward for malnourished children. Parvana, just 18 months old, keeps vomiting, but she's too weak to move on her cot. So the vomit dribbles down her neck and pools into the hem of her worn velvet tracksuit.

A provincial court in Pakistan ordered the release of a man charged with the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, the latest twist in the court case concerning Pearl's abduction and gruesome killing nearly two decades ago.

In an order issued Thursday, the Sindh High Court in Karachi said Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national, must be released from government detention by Dec. 27.

In a mosque on the outskirts of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, a preacher crowed to assembled men and boys: The Taliban, with their primitive guns, brought foreign forces to their knees, he said, and the Afghan government is next.

"America with her rich and modern weaponry knelt down to us mujahedeen. So how will you defy us?" shouted the preacher on a sunny Friday in late October. He only permitted NPR to use his family name, Mazloum, and requested the mosque's name and its precise location remain anonymous, so it would not be targeted by Afghan government forces.

The deputy governor of Kabul was killed in a blast on Tuesday morning in the Afghan capital, after a bomb attached to his armored vehicle by a magnet was detonated.

Mahbubullah Muhibbi is the latest – and one of the highest-profile — victims of shadowy assailants who have been killing journalists, police, security forces, judicial authorities and senior administrators, largely across Kabul, but also in other parts of Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have agreed to forge ahead with substantive negotiations aimed at ending decades of almost continuous war in the country, representatives from the two sides said in near-twin tweets on Wednesday.

Although peace talks ostensibly began on Sept. 12 in Qatar, the negotiations quickly bogged down in procedural matters, like which form of Islamic law should govern disputes between negotiators.

The lone customer at the Simple Café in Kabul has high hopes for America's president-elect.

"Biden won't withdraw American forces from Afghanistan. He'll stay and fight the Taliban," says Sakina Hussaini, a 23-year-old arts student.

She gestures to the empty cafe; it used to be a popular hangout. Now, most people are staying home because of an uptick in deadly car bombings, gunfights and other attacks on civilians across the capital and the country.

Updated at 1:55 p.m. ET

Gunmen disguised as policemen stormed Kabul University in the Afghan capital in an hours-long assault on Monday, killing at least 19 people and wounding 22 more, including students who jumped out of windows to flee the attackers. It is the second attack on a learning center in Kabul in recent days, and comes amid a spike in violence across the country.

As the Taliban launched an offensive over the weekend to take areas of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, there were hundreds of casualties amid some of the most intense urban fighting since Afghan peace talks began last month.

Among the victims was a pregnant woman struck by a stray bullet. She survived but her fetus died in utero, apparently the result of the bullet's impact, Doctors Without Borders says.

On her first foray into tree planting, Laiba Atiq forgot a key item — a shovel, which her mom later fetched.

But the 17-year-old is clear about why she is leading volunteers in the northern Pakistani city of Mardan to plant dozens of pine trees in a scrubby park.

"It's our duty as citizens," she says in formal English, "to implement actions that can make planet a better place to live in."

After a suicide bomber struck a Kabul academy that prepares students for university entrance exams, one promising student briefly dropped out.

That was in 2018. Shamsia Alizada, the daughter of a coal miner, returned to school and now has topped Afghanistan's nation-wide university entrance exams, according to local media reports. According to Khaama news, which cites Abdul Qadir Khamoosh, the head of the National Examination Authority, more than 200,000 students sat for the exam this year.

Updated on Aug. 19 at 8:53 a.m. ET

To pave the way for historic peace talks, the Afghan government is freeing thousands of Taliban detainees in phases, including men accused of one the deadliest attack in nearly two decades of insurgency: a 2017 truck bombing in Kabul that killed more than 150 people.

The Taliban has declared a rare cease-fire in Afghanistan for a Muslim holiday this week, in a move that could renew momentum for talks with the Afghan government.

The negotiations are meant to end the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan and give the Taliban a role in governing the country.

In an online English statement on Tuesday, the Taliban said it will "halt offensive operations against enemy forces during the three days and nights" of Eid al-Adha, which begins Thursday.

When Talia Khattak's father was bundled out of his vehicle by men in plain clothes in November, she stayed quiet, fearing he'd be harmed by his abductors if she spoke out. Months later, his whereabouts still unknown, she realized her father, Idris, might never be released without a fight.

Abbas has worked in this Kabul cemetery for more than a decade, since he moved to the Afghan capital for work. He's sometimes called to dig quickly to bury the victims of militant attacks. But the last six weeks are the busiest he's ever seen.

"People bring their dead during the day and during the night," says Abbas, who like many Afghans, has only one name. He believes the cause of death is COVID-19.

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