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Taliban's Kabul Attack Kills 21, Heightens Security ConcernsAyaz Gul VOA News
The standoff between Kabul and Washington has fueled uncertainty about future stability and security in Afghanistan.
(ISLAMABAD) - The death toll from a Taliban attack on a restaurant in Afghanistan's capital has risen to 21. A suicide bomber who blew himself up and Taliban gunmen who rushed in behind him to shoot the survivors killed 13 foreigners, including U.N. employees, Americans and other Westerners.
The attack is seen as a critical blow to Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts, and it has raised serious concerns ahead of the political security transition that is due to begin in Afghanistan in April.
Authorities in Kabul say that investigations are under way to determine circumstances that led to what is being condemned as the deadliest assault on foreign civilians in Afghanistan since the start of U.S.-led military campaign (in 2001).
In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack, calling it senseless violence. A written statement said terrorists continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for life and a prosperous future Afghans are working hard to achieve. The message said the U.S. remains committed to peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham said the Taliban target people who "have hope in and work for" Afghanistan's success. He said the insurgents "only destroy, they cannot build."
Afghan police and eyewitnesses say the bloodshed occurred when a Taliban suicide bomber, together with two gunmen Friday evening, stormed a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners in the Wazir Akbar Khan district.
Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai said on Saturday that the district police chief along with a number of officers has been suspended for failing to prevent the attack.
Addressing a gathering of provincial police chiefs in the Afghan capital, the minister questioned the motive for the violence against foreign civilians.
Daudzai said that the aim of attacks against civilian locations like the restaurant is to isolate Afghanistan by discouraging foreigners from visiting and living in the country and forcing educated Afghan youth to flee abroad. In other words, he says the enemy wants to push Afghanistan back to a century but such efforts will not succeed because “Afghanistan has completely changed and the youth this time is not ready to flee”.
A spokesman for the Taliban insurgency, Zabihullah Mujahid, while claiming responsibility for the attack told VOA that penetration of its fighters into a heavily-guarded part of Kabul demonstrates the group is capable of regaining control of the country after the withdrawal of foreign troops.
The spokesman says that if the Taliban “can have access and transport fighters to what they (Afghan authorities) dub as a Red Line area where senior officials of invading (Western) countries reside”, it shows the Taliban has the capability to retake our country”.
The spokesman added that Friday’s attack targeted a place “where invaders used to dine with booze and liquor in the plenty” He said that it was planned to avenge an Afghan military operation earlier in the week against insurgents in the eastern Parwan province that killed “many Afghan civilians”.
Afghan authorities say the offensive that reportedly involved U.S. air support killed a number of Taliban fighters, including a senior insurgent leader.
Interior Minister Daudzai says the Taliban attack on the Lebanese restaurant that killed local and foreign civilians shows insurgents are not willing to come to the negotiating table and are determined to continue their violent campaign.
However, a senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, says that the peace talks can only bring an end to the Afghan conflict. He told VOA that civilians are dying not only in Taliban attacks but in military operations undertaken by Afghan and foreign troops.
“These kinds of incidents may happen again and again but it tells us that we have to go for a political settlement and we have to prevent all the military operations in Afghanistan and we have to create trust and confidence among different segments, different elements of the (Afghan) crisis,” he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai formed the High Peace Council consisting of influential members of the Afghan society in a bid to engage the Taliban in peace and political reconciliation efforts. But the council has made no headway since it was established in 2010.
The latest Taliban violence has raised security fears ahead of the historic presidential election in April because insurgents have rejected the polls as a “U.S.-staged drama” to legitimize its“ occupation of Afghanistan.
Moreover, NATO-led international forces are due to end their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of this year and the United States wants to retain a much smaller military presence in the country past 2014. The residual American force is meant to help nascent Afghan security forces prevent the Taliban from staging a comeback.
However, President Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the Obama administration to allow for the proposed American force to stay in Afghanistan.
The United States has warned it will be forced to completely withdraw forces from the country if the security pact is not in place soon. The standoff between Kabul and Washington has fueled uncertainty about future stability and security in Afghanistan.
Special thanks to Afghanistan News Center
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