May 15, 2020 RFE/RL
The United States has blamed Islamic State extremists for two deadly attacks this week, but Afghan officials say they see it differently, saying the Taliban is responsible.
The special U.S. representative to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Twitter that the United States believes that the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate carried out the “horrific attacks” on a maternity hospital in Kabul and a funeral ceremony in Nangarhar Province.
No group has claimed responsibility for the hospital attack, which killed 24 people, including two babies, and the Taliban has denied it was behind the incident.
Though he did not mention Khalilzad by name, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said some people were naive for accepting Taliban lies and blaming the “fictional” Islamic State faction in Afghanistan for the attack.
“Neither the Taliban hands nor their stained consciousness can be washed of the blood of women, babies & other innocent in the latest senseless carnage,” Saleh, a former intelligence chief, said on Twitter.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military to go on the offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups following the two attacks on May 12 that killed at least 56 people. He accused all militant groups of ignoring repeated calls to reduce violence.
Khalilzad said the Islamic State opposes peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban and “seeks to encourage sectarian war as in Iraq and Syria.”
“Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity,” Khalilzad said.
It was unclear whether the U.S. position would help revive peace efforts or alter Ghani’s calculation to start an offensive.
The Taliban, which has denied involvement in either attack, reacted to Ghani’s statement on May 13 by saying it was “fully prepared” to repel any military offensive.
In the first attack, three gunmen stormed a maternity hospital in Kabul’s mostly Shi’ite neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi before security forces killed them. At least 24 people, including babies, women, and nurses, were killed.
Separately, a suicide bomber targeted a funeral for a police commander in the eastern province of Nangarhar, killing at least 32 people. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.
No group claimed credit for the attack on the maternity hospital, but the Shi’ite neighborhood where it is located has been frequently targeted by Islamic State militants.
The Taliban signed a landmark deal with the United States in February meant to pave the way for direct talks between the militant group and the Western-backed government in Kabul after more than 18 years of war.
But the Taliban has ramped up attacks in recent weeks despite a pledge to reduce violence, a tactic that may be employed to strengthen its negotiating position and appease some commanders.
Meanwhile, Islamic State militants also continue to conduct deadly attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians.
The core peace plan is for U.S. and foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan following an intra-Afghan deal in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban not to allow the country to become a haven for transnational terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda aiming to strike abroad.