Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

IS at­tack hits Afghan cap­i­tal; Pom­peo joins peace meet­ings

- By Kathy Gan­non and Tameem Akhgar

KABUL, Afghanista­n — Mor­tars slammed into a res­i­den­tial area of the Afghan cap­i­tal, killing eight peo­ple Satur­day, hours be­fore out­go­ing U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo held what are likely his last meet­ings with the Tal­iban and Afghan gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors try­ing to ham­mer out a peace deal.

The at­tack in Kab­ul­was blamed on Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

The as­sault came as peace talk­swere­un­der­way in Qatar, where Pom­peo told Afghan gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tors that the U.S. will “sit on the side and help where we can” in the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tal­iban mil­i­tants.

Two Tal­iban of­fi­cials told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the two war­ring sides have found com­mon ground on which to move for­ward the stalled talks. The­of­fi­cials, whospokeon con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they are not au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia, did not elab­o­rate.

In Kabul, at least one of the 23 mor­tar shells fired fromt­wocars hit in­side the Ira­nian Em­bassy com­pound. No one was in­jured, but it dam­aged the main build­ing, the Ira­nian Em­bassy said in a tweet. At least 31 peo­ple were hurt else­where in the city, ac­cord­ing to the Afghan In­te­rior Min­istry.

The lo­cal Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate is­sued a state­ment claim­ing the at­tack that tar­geted the so- called Green Zone in Kabul that houses for­eign em­bassies, the pres­i­den­tial palace and Afghan mil­i­tary com­pounds, ac­cord­ing to SITE In­tel­li­gence Group.

In Doha, Pom­peo also met with the co-founder of the Tal­iban, Mul­lah Ab­dul GhaniBarad­ar, whosigned the peace agree­ment with Washington in Fe­bru­ary ahead of in­tra-Afghan

talks. The in­sur­gent group’s spokesman, Mo­ham­mad Naeem, tweeted that fur­ther pris­oner re­leases were dis­cussed in the meet­ing, in ad­di­tion to those that the two war­ring sides com­mit­ted to ahead of peace talks un­der the U.S. deal.

Naeem said the Tal­iban also re­peated theird­e­mand that Tal­iban lead­ers be re­moved from the United Na­tions sanc­tions list. Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­hul­lah Mu­ja­hed ear­lier Satur­day is­sued a state­ment as­sail­ing the Afghang­overn­ment for re­quest­ing the U.N. main­tain sanc­tions onTal­iban lead­ers.

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 an­nounce­ment last week that theUnit­edS­tates will ac­cel­er­ate its planned troop with­drawal has lent greater ur­gency to the in­tra-Afghan ne­go­ti­a­tions and to the calls for a re­duc­tion in vi­o­lence. Washington an­nounced it

would with­draw another es­ti­mated 2,500 troops be­fore the mid­dle of Jan­uary leav­ing about 2,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers in Afghanista­n.

The Tal­iban have, how­ever, held to their prom­ise not to at­tack U.S. and NATOtroops.

The United States has been press­ing in re­cent weeks for a re­duc­tion in vi­o­lence, while the Afghan gov­ern­ment has been de­mand­ing a cease-fire. The Tal­iban have re­fused, say­ing a cease-fire will be part of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

There are many within the Afghan gov­ern­ment who want Fe­bru­ary’s peace deal scrapped. Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den has pre­vi­ously ad­vo­cated a small, in­tel­li­gence based force in Afghanista­n to fo­cus on counter-ter­ror­ism.

Mean­while, Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, head of the gov­ern­ment’s High Coun­cil for Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, con­demned in a tweet Satur­day’s at­tack on the cap­i­tal, call­ing it a “cow­ardly” act. The coun­cil over­sees the gov­ern­ment’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team at the ta­ble with the Tal­iban in Doha.

 ?? RAHMAT GUL/AP ?? An Afghan man holds the frag­ment of a mor­tar shell Satur­day at a fa­tal at­tack site in Kabul, Afghanista­n.
RAHMAT GUL/AP An Afghan man holds the frag­ment of a mor­tar shell Satur­day at a fa­tal at­tack site in Kabul, Afghanista­n.

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