The US and UK yesterday warned their citizens to avoid hotels in Afghanistan, days after dozens were killed at a mosque in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
The Taliban, which seized power in August and declared an Islamic emirate, are seeking international recognition and assistance, to avoid a humanitarian disaster and ease Afghanistan’s economic crisis, but as it transitions from a rebel army to a governing power, it is struggling to contain the threat from the Afghanistan chapter of the Islamic State group.
“US citizens who are at or near the Serena Hotel should leave immediately,” the US Department of State said, citing “security threats” in the area.
“In light of the increased risks you are advised not to stay in hotels, particularly in Kabul (such as the Serena Hotel),” the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office added.
Since the Taliban takeover, many foreigners have left Afghanistan, but some journalists and aid workers remain in the capital.
The Serena, a luxury hotel popular with business travelers and foreign guests, has twice been the target of attacks by the Taliban.
In 2014, just weeks before a presidential election, four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security, killing nine people, including an Agence France-Presse journalist and members of his family.
In 2008, a suicide bombing left six dead.
During a chaotic evacuation of foreign nationals and at-risk Afghans in August, NATO nations issued a chorus of warnings about an imminent threat, telling people to stay away from Kabul airport. Hours later, a suicide bomber detonated in a crowd gathered around one of the airport gates, killing scores of civilians and 13 US troops.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has since targeted several Taliban guards and claimed a devastating bomb attack in Kunduz last week that ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers — the bloodiest assault since US forces left the nation.
Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those nations — massacring civilians at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.
The terror threat has partly overshadowed Taliban efforts to improve its international standing.
Over the weekend, senior Taliban and US delegations held their first face-to-face talks in Doha since the US withdrawal.
The talks “focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners,” US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said.
“Human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society” were also raised, Price said in a statement.
The discussions were “candid and professional,” and US officials reiterated that “the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words,” the state department said.
The Taliban said the US had agreed to send aid to Afghanistan, though Washington said the issue had only been discussed, and that any assistance would go to the Afghan people and not the Taliban government.
“US representatives stated that they will give humanitarian assistance to Afghans and will provide facilities for other humanitarian organizations to deliver aid,” the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that the aid should not be linked to political issues.
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