Any hopes that the U.S. agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan would lead to a lasting reduction in violence are dead.
“While these pregnant women and babies were in one of life’s most vulnerable states, an unknown number of assailants stormed the maternity hospital and unleashed a series of explosions and gunfire that lasted for hours,” Doctors Without Borders said in a Wednesday news release. “While fighting was on-going, one woman gave birth to her baby and both are doing well.”
Elsewhere in the Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed at least 32 people at the funeral of a local police chief.
Although the Taliban claims these attacks were carried out by ISIS, they were the final straw for the Afghan government: Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces surged by 70 percent from March 1 to April 15, according to Reuters.
Consequently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced that Afghan troops and police would go on the offensive against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, calling the attacks on the maternity ward and funeral “despicable crimes and acts of terror.”
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“Despite the appeals by the Afghan nation and government, esteemed Ulama [religious scholars] and the international community, the Taliban has not ceased killing Afghans and yet ramped up attacks and continue to target sinless civilians and public facilities,” Ghani said in a televised speech on Tuesday.
Ghani also said the war in Afghanistan must end with a “sustainable and dignified peace.”
“However, the Taliban, who are provoked by their foreign patrons, insist to intensify the war and continue to kill Afghans in cold blood,” he continued.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid deflected blame for the recent attacks by spinning a conspiracy theory that ISIS and Afghan intelligence are working together to carry out such attacks to undermine the peace process.
Moreover, the Taliban have refused to take responsibility for the sharp increase in violence in Afghanistan, with Mujahid placing the blame on Afghan security forces whom he claimed have been building new checkpoints and outposts.
“The military formations of the Islamic Emirate are fully prepared to counter all enemy movements and offensives and to robustly defend its people and battlefronts,” Mujahid said in a Tuesday statement.
On Feb. 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement, under which all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban fought terrorists and met other conditions. The Taliban allegedly also agreed to halt attacks against Afghan troops and police as part of an arrangement that has never been made public.
Defense officials have since acknowledged that the Taliban did not reduce attacks against Afghan security forces at all. The U.S. military has continued to launch airstrikes against the Taliban in defense of Afghan troops and police, although the U.S. military has stopped publicly releasing both the number of Taliban attacks and U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military is expected to draw down to roughly 8,600 troops in Afghanistan by mid-July to focus on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups. That mission never stopped after the Feb. 29 withdrawal agreement was struck.
It is not immediately known how the Afghan government’s decision to shift from defensive to offensive operations will affect the U.S. military’s plans going forward.
“Consistent with the agreement, the U.S. military will continue to conduct defensive strikes against the Taliban when they attack our ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] partners,” said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman. “As the secretary of defense stated recently, this is going to be a windy, bumpy road, but a political agreement is the best way to end the war.”
Separately, a senior administration official told Task & Purpose that the upsurge in violence across Afghanistan in recent weeks is threatening to derail efforts to reach a final peace agreement with the Taliban.
However, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien indicated on Tuesday that the United States still intends to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan.
“It’s now time for the Afghan people to get together to enter into a meaningful peace process and it’s time for America to come home,” O’Brien told reporters during a White House news conference. “We’ve got a lot to focus on here.”