Afghan envoy to UN says ‘plot too complex for Taliban to have developed on their own
Afghan officials claim wave of Kabul terror attacks ‘linked to Trump’s withdrawal of aid to Pakistan’
WASHINGTON DC: The United States is confident that the Haqqani network was behind the Taliban’s Saturday ambulance bomb in Kabul that killed more than 100 people, officials say, a conclusion that could add friction to ties between Washington and Islamabad.
The United States has long blamed militant havens in Pakistan for prolonging the war in Afghanistan, accusing Pakistan of giving insurgents from the Haqqani network a place to plot attacks and rebuild their forces.
“We are very confident the Taliban Haqqani network was behind the killing of more than 103 people this past Saturday,” said Captain Tom Gresback, a US military spokesperson for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, without elaborating further on US intelligence or offering any link to Pakistan.
Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told Reuters the United States believed the attack was the work of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which Washington and Kabul have long accused of being behind some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.
Afghanistan’s envoy to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, on Monday suggested the plot was too complex for the Taliban to have developed on their own.
“Given the degree of sophistication … can you expect an illiterate Taliban to come up with this kind of genius plot, using ambulances?” Saikal told Reuters in an interview, adding Kabul was still gathering information. “It’s not a simple thing to do.”
Saturday’s blast, claimed by the Taliban, was the deadliest since 150 people were killed in a huge truck bomb explosion last May near the German embassy, which US officials also blamed on the Haqqani network.
It followed another Taliban-claimed attack a week earlier that killed more than 20 people in a siege of the city’s Intercontinental Hotel.
On Monday, militants raided a military academy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, killing 11 soldiers. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack near the Marshal Fahim military academy on the city’s western outskirts.
The attacks have put pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his US allies, who have expressed growing confidence that a new, more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban insurgents back from major provincial centres.
Ties between the United States and Pakistan are already brittle after Washington announced plans earlier in January to suspend up to roughly $2 billion in US security assistance. US President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan had rewarded past US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit”.
Pakistan, which denies the accusations it allows havens for militants, condemned Saturday’s attack and accused Washington of betrayal.
As tensions rise, the United States has been quietly examining ways to mitigate any retaliation by Pakistan, a crucial gateway for US military supplies destined for troops fighting the 16-year-old war in landlocked Afghanistan.
It also has not ruled out additional steps, including unilateral strikes in Pakistan against Haqqani targets.
Saikal renewed the longstanding Afghan concern that the plots for these attacks were coming from Pakistan and cheered Trump’s rejection on Monday of the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban.
“We hope the fight also includes focus on where the terrorist attacks are plotted and organised,” he said in an interview.
KABUL TERROR ATTACKS ‘LINKED TO TRUMP’S AID WITHDRAWAL’:
Meanwhile, Afghan officials claimed that the upsurge of atrocities on their land is a direct response to the Trump administration’s suspension of aid for the Pakistani military.
The head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, NDS (National Directorate of Security) Masoom Stanekzai, stated that these were deadly attempts by the Pakistani backers of the insurgency to show they cannot be sidelined.
A senior diplomat in Kabul, Majeed Qarar, said there was evidence that the equipment used in the attacks had been given by the Pakistani military to Islamist fighters in Kashmir as well as Afghanistan. He also claimed that some of it had been supplied by a firm in the UK.
Qarar tweeted: “The night vision goggles found with Taliban attackers in … ANA [Afghan National Army] base were military grade goggles (Not sold to the public) procured by Pak[istan’s] army from a British company & supplied [to] Lashkar-e-Tayeeba in Kashmir & Taliban in Afghanistan.”
This follows statements by the NDS after the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel which killed 22 people, including 14 foreigners, that “the explosive materials seized in the vehicle shows that the material is made in Pakistan” and had been traced to a company based in Islamabad. In Washington, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We call on Pakistan to immediately arrest or expel the Taliban’s leaders and prevent the group from using Pakistani territory to support its operations. In Afghanistan, where terrorists attacked the hotel in Kabul, such attacks on civilians only strengthen our resolve to support our Afghan partners.”
The Afghan government also maintained there was Pakistani collusion in the suicide bombing that used an ambulance, which resulted in 103 deaths.
Pakistan has denied the accusation. “The people and the government of Pakistan condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul and extend heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this reprehensible act,” said a foreign ministry spokesman. “Terrorism is not the way forward.”