Taliban Reasserts Itself With Wave of Attacks Across Afghanistan

(Bloomberg) -- The Taliban has reasserted itself with a wave of attacks across Afghanistan that have killed hundreds in the past week, complicating plans for a possible cease-fire and providing deadly leverage before potential peace talks.

The group’s fighters mounted a sustained push on the strategic city of Ghazni, about 90 miles from the capital, Kabul on Aug. 10, its most brazen assault on an urban area in two years. The Taliban has also attacked several military bases in the northern region and has mounted a fresh offensive against its the rival Islamic State affiliate in the country.

The attacks indicate “the Taliban are apparently seeking to have upper hand or more concessions in any peace talks,” said Waheed Mujda, a former Taliban official and now an independent Kabul-based analyst. “Or it seems they are trying to sabotage peace efforts and force the Americans to leave the county by killing more Afghans.”

Amid the bloodshed, unknown gunmen launched an attack on an intelligence agency training center in Kabul today, Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai said phone. That followed a suicide attack on Wednesday at a private educational center in the Shiite area of the capital that killed about 50 students -- mostly girls -- and wounded more than 60 others. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast.

Brutal Deadlock

The 17-year conflict has largely ground to a violent stalemate with the U.S. and Afghan army unable to bring about a conclusive military victory in the country. While U.S. President Donald Trump has authorized an increase in air strikes and American troops stationed in Afghanistan, his administration is also seeking to negotiate an accord with the Taliban.

A U.S. delegation led by the country’s top South Asia diplomat, Alice Wells, held talks on Afghan peace and confidence building measures with the group in Doha last month. The insurgents also met with senior Uzbekistan officials last week to discuss Afghan peace and energy needs, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in emailed statement.

The uptick in violence “hasn’t deterred” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s consideration of a short-lived cease-fire with the group during the Eid al-Adha celebrations next week, said Durani Waziri, a presidential spokeswoman. The attack could “somehow affect” the trend of peace talks, she said without elaborating.

Ghani said in a televised speech last month said that peace is “now more possible” than at any time in the past.

A rare but short-lived truce in June between the government and the Taliban signaled the group also seeks peace, he said. Islamic State-Khorasan was not included in the cease-fire, which say Taliban fighters appearing in the streets of some cities, greeting and hugging locals and raising hopes that the war could come to an end.

The unstable security situation across much of the country comes as Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary and district council elections on Oct. 20. It will hold its fourth presidential elections since 2001 on April 20 next year, according to Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a spokesman for the Independent Elections Commission.

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