Deadly attacks in Afghanistan deal a new blow to Trump's long-shot peace plan

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US President Donald Trump's stalled plans to bring peace to Afghanistan have suffered a new setback with a decision by Kabul to resume offensive operations against the Taliban following two attacks that killed scores of Afghans and a truck bomb.
A woman with two newborn babies who lost their mothers following a suicide attack on a Kabul maternity hospital. The Afghan government has decided to resume offensive operations against the Taleban following two attacks, including the hospital attack
A woman with two newborn babies who lost their mothers following a suicide attack on a Kabul maternity hospital. The Afghan government has decided to resume offensive operations against the Taleban following two attacks, including the hospital attack, on Tuesday that killed scores of Afghans. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON/MUMBAI • US President Donald Trump's stalled plans to bring peace to Afghanistan have suffered a new setback with a decision by Kabul to resume offensive operations against the Taleban following two attacks on Tuesday that killed scores of Afghans.

Washington cast the attacks - one at a Kabul hospital where gunmen killed at least 24 people, including two newborns, and a suicide bombing at a funeral in Nangarhar province that killed at least 32 people - as a moment for the Afghan government and the Taleban to unite to combat such violence and to negotiate a peace deal.

An affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. There has been no claim for the maternity hospital attack in Kabul. The Taleban denied involvement in both attacks.

Meanwhile, the Taleban said it carried out a deadly attack yesterday on an Afghan army base following the government's order for its forces to resume strikes against the militants. The defence ministry said a truck bomb in the eastern city of Gardez killed five civilians.

Sources said the recent attacks were more likely to undermine the US-sponsored peace process than to achieve any Afghan government-Taleban reconciliation.

The Afghan government had largely suspended offensives against the Taleban since a US troop reduction plan was unveiled on Feb 29, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's stated intention to resume operations could start a cycle of violence, a US official said.

"The Taleban was (probably) not ever committed to making this deal work with the Afghan government and this is the fig leaf of an excuse that will blow (it up) and give everybody an excuse to walk away," the official said.

The hospital attack did not seem consistent with Taleban tactics, the official noted.

The official said Washington still planned to cut the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from about 13,000 when the deal was struck and then assess whether to go lower. "Very clearly our assessment is that the conditions are not being met" to go below 8,600, the official said, adding that it would ultimately be a political decision.

"If the Afghans are going on the attack, I don't see how you can keep a deal going," said a US congressional aide who asked not to be named.

Asked if he was concerned that the peace effort was unravelling, Mr Trump stressed his desire for Afghans to handle their own security rather than relying on United States forces.

"We've been there for many years, we're like a police force. We're not fighting in Afghanistan, we're a police force in Afghanistan and at some point they're going to have to be able to take care of their country," he told reporters.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2020, with the headline Deadly attacks in Afghanistan deal a new blow to Trump's long-shot peace plan. Subscribe