The United States on Thursday blamed ISIL (ISIS) – not the Taliban – for an attack on a maternity ward in Afghanistan this week in which 24 people died, including two newborn babies and urged the government to embrace a troubled peace effort with the Taliban.
It was unclear whether the declaration would be enough to reverse a decision by the Kabul government to resume offensive operations against the group.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military on Tuesday to switch to “offensive mode” against the Taliban following the hospital attack in Kabul and a suicide bombing in Nangarhar province that killed scores of people.
US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad blamed ISIL for both attacks in a statement issued on Twitter, saying the group opposed any Taliban peace agreement and sought to trigger an Iraq-style sectarian war in Afghanistan.
“Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity,” Khalilzad said.
“No more excuses. Afghans, and the world, deserve better.”
A group affiliated to ISIL claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. No one has claimed responsibility for the hospital attack.
The Taliban denied involvement in the attacks, but the government accused the group of fostering an environment in which “terrorism” thrives or of working with other armed groups who could have been involved.
The USG has assessed ISIS-K conducted the horrific attacks on a maternity ward and a funeral earlier this week in Afghanistan. ISIS has demonstrated a pattern for favoring these types of heinous attacks against civilians and is a threat to the Afghan people and to the world.
The attacks were another setback to US President Donald Trump’s stalled plans to bring peace to Afghanistan and end America’s longest war.
A February 29 US-Taliban deal called for a phased US troop withdrawal and for the Afghan government and Taliban to release some prisoners by March 10, when talks were to start.
Intra-Afghan talks have yet to take place and there is some bitterness within the Afghan government, which was not a party to the February 29 deal, that the US undercut their leverage by negotiating directly with the Taliban.
Ghani’s decision to revive offensive operations is supported by many opposition figures, who believe Washington’s sole focus is to keep the US troop withdrawal plan on track to help Trump win a second term in the presidential election, which takes place on November 3.