The Afghan Taliban yesterday killed 19 soldiers in an assault in a remote mountainous region of the country, the Afghan government said, with six soldiers missing after the militants’ most deadly assault on security forces in months.
Also yesterday, a Taliban spokesman said the group had suspended its efforts to arrange a possible exchange of Taliban and US prisoners due to the “complexity” of the situation in Afghanistan, dealing a possible blow to US efforts to foster peace talks to end the long conflict.
In response to the killings in Kunar — a region bordering Pakistan that has long been a stronghold of Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militants — Afghan President Hamid Karzai put off a trip to Sri Lanka.
“The Afghan president is saddened by this tragic incident and therefore he postponed today’s official trip to Sri Lanka,” Karzai’s office said in a statement.
The government sent reinforcements to Kunar’s Ghaziabad District, where the predawn attack took place, Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Zahir Azimi said in a statement.
The Taliban seems to have been waiting for them, as Azimi said the reinforcements “came under enemy attack and a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near them.”
The suicide bomber did not kill any Afghan soldiers, Azimi said.
In a possible reference to al-Qaeda or other militants who might not be part of the Afghan Taliban, Azimi also said that “foreign fighters” had taken part in the attack.
ight against Taliban and other militants to Afghan forces.
While Afghanistan’s police and army are seen as having made big strides in their ability to fight militants, doubts remain over whether they can keep the Taliban at bay, especially in places like Kunar.
It remains unclear if the US and allied nations will keep a small force in Afghanistan after this year to support Afghan forces and go after al-Qaeda due to Karzai’s refusal to sign a US-Afghan pact authorizing a future troop presence.
In a separate statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced that the group’s reclusive leadership — believed to be based in Pakistan — had suspended attempts to arrange the exchange of senior Taliban members in a US prison for a US soldier in militant custody.
US officials hoped to revive discussions with Taliban representatives about the proposed transfer of up to five Taliban detainees out of Guantanamo Bay in exchange for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a who went missing in 2009 and is believed to be held by T aliban-linked militants in northwest Pakistan.
“Due to the political complexity of the current situation in the country, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend the issue for some time,” Mujahid said, using the name the Taliban has given to its 1996 to 2001 government.
Yesterday’s attack came a day after Beijing urged Afghanistan to embrace an inclusive political solution to its long-running conflict during a rare visit by a top Chinese official.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) met Karzai on Saturday during a visit that took place as China, which shares a border with Afghanistan, is becoming increasingly concerned about security in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where it says Muslim extremists receive help from militants in neighboring countries.
“The peace and stability of this country has an impact on the security of western China and, more importantly, it affects the tranquility and development of the entire region,” Wang told a news conference alongside his counterpart in Kabul, Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Zarar Ahmad Osmani. “We hope to see a broad-based and inclusive political reconciliation in Afghanistan as soon as possible, and China will play a constructive role to facilitate that... A divided country will have no future.”
Wang last visited Kabul in early 2002 when he was vice foreign minister and reopened China’s embassy after the fall of the Taliban.
His visit coincides with a time of transition for Afghanistan, ahead of the pull-out of foreign troops and an April presidential election.
Eleven candidates are competing to replace Karzai, who has served two terms as Afghanistan’s elected president. All pledge to end decades of civil war and insurgent conflict.
Beijing-based diplomats say China has been stepping up its engagement with regional players in recent months, mainly out of concern that the pullout may spawn instability that could spill into Xinjiang.
Wang’s visit may also underscore Afghanistan’s potential, with China keen to invest in Afghan resource deposits the Pentagon estimates are worth as much as US$1 trillion.
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