The Taliban has lost a top commander to an ISIS suicide bomber who attacked a meeting between jihadists and village leaders in northern Afghanistan, local officials told the Associated Press — a setback for peace efforts amid the Taliban’s push for talks with both the Afghan government and the United States military.

  • The Associated Press reports that the suicide attack in northern Sar-i-Pul province occurred “as village elders met with Taliban officials,” leaving 15 local elders and five Taliban dead in a region where ISIS and the Taliban “have been waging bitter battles in recent days,” according to a provincial police chief.
  • The Taliban in the past few weeks have signaled an openness to talk with their enemies in the Afghan government; a brief, historic ceasefire in mid-June offered a respite from fighting that allowed Green Berets and Afghan commandos to clear a major ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.
  • But the willingness of the U.S. government to engage in direct talks remains unclear after top U.S. Gen. John Nicholson talked around the issue; he’d initially stated that “we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces.” Nicholson later qualified those comments in a subsequent statement.
  •  “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government,” he clarified. “My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo’s statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people towards lasting peace were mischaracterized.”
  • But while one Taliban official told the AP that the group was “ready to put troop withdrawal as well as any outstanding concerns the U.S. might have on the table,” ISIS appears dead set against this; in June, the group attacked a meeting of Afghanistan's top religious clerics in Kabul amid calls for direct talks with the Taliban.

It's worth noting that the June meeting that ISIS targeted also, ironically, focused on issuing a fatwa outlawing suicide bombings. “The gathering had just finished and the clerics were coming out of the tent when that suicide bomber went off,” Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse reported at the time. “They had just come to an agreement saying that suicide bombing was un-Islamic.”

Ah, young jihadists: they all blow up so fast.