As mortar shells slammed into a residential area of Afghanistan’s capital, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held what are likely his last meetings with Taliban and Afghan Government negotiators trying to negotiate peace.
- The attack took place in Kabul’s green zone, which houses foreign embassies and the presidential palace
- Violence has marred US-mediated peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government
- The attack comes a week after the US announced a plan to reduce troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,000
The attack in Kabul, claimed by Islamic State militants, killed eight people and wounded 31 people on Saturday.
The assault came as peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government were underway in Qatar, where Mr Pompeo told Afghan Government negotiators that Washington would “sit on the side and help where we can”.
Two Taliban officials told the Associated Press the warring sides have found common ground on which to move the stalled talks forward.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to journalists, did not elaborate.
‘Be vigilant about the spoilers’
In Kabul, at least one of the 23 mortar rounds hit inside the Iranian embassy compound.
No-one was wounded, but it damaged the main building, the embassy said.
The local Islamic State affiliate issued a statement claiming the attack that targeted the so-called Green Zone in Kabul, which houses foreign embassies, the presidential palace and Afghan military compounds, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for Reconciliation, condemned the Kabul attack in a tweet, calling it a “cowardly” act.
The council oversees Kabul’s negotiations with the Taliban in Doha.
Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Kabul on Tuesday for the first time since he came to office, condemned the attack and warned “it is important to be vigilant against the spoilers who are working to undermine the peace efforts”, but he did not identify the spoilers.
Taliban refuse ceasefire as US withdraws more troops
The US, alongside coalition forces, invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of Al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks, masterminded by Osama bin Laden, then a guest of Afghanistan’s Taliban government.
These troops have remained in the country ever since, and it has become America’s longest war.
Prior to becoming President, Donald Trump had repeatedly called for the US to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Commander-In-Chief, he vowed to “end the era of endless wars”.
He has not managed to achieve complete withdrawal in either country, but he has managed to reduce the scale of US engagement.
Last week, Washington announced it would withdraw another estimated 2,500 troops before the middle of January, leaving about 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.
In Doha, Mr Pompeo met with the co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed the peace agreement with Washington in February ahead of the peace talks.
Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem tweeted that further prisoner releases were discussed in the meeting, in addition to those that the two sides committed to ahead of peace talks under the US deal.
Mr Naeem said the Taliban also repeated its demand that their leaders be removed from the United Nations sanctions list.
For most Afghans, the overriding concern has been a sharp rise in violence this year and a surge of attacks by the Taliban against Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces since the start of peace talks in September.
The Taliban have, however, held to their promise not to attack US and NATO troops.
The US’s planned troop withdrawal has lent greater urgency to the negotiations and to the calls for a reduction in violence, which includes a demand for a ceasefire by Kabul.
But the Taliban have refused and said a ceasefire will be part of further negotiations.