When an Afghan airstrike hit a Taliban fighter’s home and set fire to a nearby house with a family inside, neighbors gathered at the scene to help. Then came a second airstrike.
“I yelled at people and told them not to go because maybe there would be another bombing, but they ran to help and to put out the fire,” said Latif Rahmani, a resident who witnessed the incident Saturday in the northern village of Sayed Ramazan. The Afghan Defense Ministry claimed the strikes killed 30 Taliban fighters and said it is investigating reports of 24 civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, Taliban representatives and Afghan government officials start the second week of peace talks in Doha, Qatar. The United States has hailed the talks as “historic” even as the Taliban fails to keep promises it made as a pre-condition to the talks and violence increases throughout the country.
The day after the airstrike in Sayed Ramazan, a Taliban attack on security checkpoints in central Afghanistan left 24 government troops dead. Monir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told Reuters that insurgents abducted three members of the National Directorate of Security, the nation’s spy organization. Officials reported more clashes and deaths over the weekend across the country.
Both sides blame each other for the rising violence, which has killed more than 98 civilians and injured 230 others in the past two weeks, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian.
Sher Jan Ahmadzai, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said he expected the Taliban to increase attacks as a negotiation tactic during peace talks: “The only means they have is violence to show their strength of hand.”
The United States brokered a deal with the Taliban six months ago to launch the talks, reduce violence and reach an eventual cease-fire, withdraw all foreign troops from the country, and end support for other terror groups.
Ahmadzai, who is tracking progress on the agreement, said the Taliban has failed to follow through on parts of the deal, including cutting ties with al-Qaeda. He said the United States made significant concessions to push the process forward ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November: “It’s a deal of desperation by the U.S. side. That’s why it gave a lot of things to the Taliban and left the Afghan government to deal with it itself.”
Abdullah Abdullah, who leads Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said some Taliban insurgents released as part of the deal have already returned to the battlefield. “Unfortunately, so far, the level of violence is very high,” he said during an online conference on Tuesday with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
The Taliban and the Afghan government have vastly different visions for the nation’s future. The government wants to preserve civil and democratic rights, while the insurgent group could push for strict implementation of Islamic rule.
Andrew Watkins, the International Crisis Group’s senior Afghanistan analyst, urged negotiators to push for an immediate decrease of violence: “Such a reduction is more likely to be achieved incrementally, with agreements on restricting the use of specific tactics or weaponry that each side perceives as particularly harmful to civilians.”