KABUL/WASHINGTON: Kabul was reeling on Saturday after IS militants killed 32 people and wounded dozens more, with injured survivors describing scenes of terror as gunmen opened fire in the deadliest attack to hit Afghanistan since a US-Taliban deal.
The attack at a crowded gathering in the capital has raised questions about Afghanistan’s abysmal security situation and uncertain future following the February 29 agreement to pull foreign forces from the country within 14 months.
The United States is indicating that the Afghan government may soon have to fend for itself, as President Donald Trump also began to doubt its capacity to fight off the Taliban.
“Eventually countries have to take care of themselves,” Trump said at the White House when asked if he was afraid the Taliban would overrun the government once the US withdraws. “We can’t be there for the next 20 years’’.
Asked by a reporter if he believed the Afghan government could stave off attacks by the Taliban, Trump said: “We’ll have to see later… I can’t answer that question’’.
Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the US would not intervene in two or three years down the line if the Afghan government was not capable of defending itself.
“But President Trump has also made clear that if two years from now or five years from now there is a threat to the United States of America, we’re going to come right back at it,” Pompeo told the broadcaster.
Pompeo insisted that for now, the US reserved the “full right” to defend the Afghan government’s forces, as US troops remain embedded alongside the local units.
Trump is aiming to wind down US forces by a third, to 8,600, within months and complete the exit from Afghanistan by next year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his government did not wish to keep Taliban prisoners but his people are demanding guarantees that the inmates will not return to the battlefields. The US promise that up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released before intra-Afghan talks seem to be a major obstacle for the start of talks on March 10 in Oslo.
The Taliban is insisting the clause be honoured in full before it sits down to negotiate.
The prisoners must be released based on a “transparent process and clear mechanism,” Ghani said while delivering remarks at the opening ceremony of the new legislative session of the country’s national assembly.
Lying in a hospital bed in a run-down Kabul neighbourhood, 15-year-old Basira said she had attended Friday’s annual commemoration ceremony for Abdul Ali Mazari — a politician from the Hazara ethnic group — for the first time, accompanied by her father and younger sister.
“We were in the middle of the ceremony when the gunfire erupted,” she said in a frail voice.