ISIS Car Bomb Kills 26 As Taliban, Afghan Forces Hug, Take Selfies; Ceasefire Holds

Islamic State claims responsibility for the suicide bombing

Afghanistan announces extension of govt ceasefire with Taliban

JUN 16, 2018: At least 26 people were killed by a car bomb blast Saturday at a gathering of Taliban and Afghan armed forces in Nangarhar province celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire announced by both sides during Eid.

Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants had earlier entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and other cities to celebrate Eid. Afghan security forces and civilians hugged and took selfies with each other across the country, in an outpouring of emotion over the ceasefire.

However, in Jalalabad city of the eastern province of Nangarhar, while a crowd of government soldiers, Taliban insurgents and civilians were celebrating the mutual temporary cease-fire a suicide blast ripped through the gathering. Afghan security personnel, Taliban fighters and civilians were among the victims.

The explosion that occurred about 5:15 p.m was claimed by the Islamic State in a statement. “A suicide attack struck a gathering of Afghan forces and Taliban movement in the city of Jalal Abbad in Nangarhar,” the statement said.

US Army Lt. Colonel Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, had earlier attributed the blast to ISIS-Khorasan, the group’s affiliate in the country, according to CNN.

An Afghan man mourns in a hospital after a car bomb, Jalalabad city, Afghanistan June 16.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the families of those martyred and all those whose joyous celebration was impacted by this attack on peace, which ISIS-K claimed,” O’Donnell said in a statement.

Rare scenes have been reported in Afghanistan of Taliban fighters and government security forces shaking hands and embracing during an unprecedented ceasefire to mark Eid.

“This violence will not halt the peaceful gatherings in Nangarhar and around the country celebrating a long overdue cessation of hostilities and a chance for lasting peace, or undermine the strength and resolve of the Afghan people and the international commitment to Afghanistan,” he added.

A government spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told VOA the bombing on the outskirts of Jalabalad, capital of the eastern province, also seriously injured at least 30 people. Media reports say more than 54 are wounded, some in critical condition.

Taliban on motorbikes shake hands with people in Kabul during the ceasefire.

The deputy head of the provincial council told VOA the attack was carried out by a suicide car bomber. IS has established strong bases in Nangarhar, and its militants routinely carry out targeted killings and suicide bombings, the official said.

Saturday’s blast coincided with a brief televised announcement from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who praised the mutual ceasefire and unilaterally extended the government’s ceasefire.

It was not immediately known whether the Taliban also was intending to extend its three-day truce. As of now, the ceasefire holds, according to unnamed sources cited in media reports.

People take selfies with Taliban in Kabul on Eid.

“To respect the public’s wishes and to support their demands about peace, I am ordering the security and defense forces to extend the cease-fire from the fourth day of Eid. We will soon share the details of the proposed cease-fire with the nation,” Ghani said.

He went on to urge the Taliban to extend its cease-fire, and he offered medical assistance to wounded insurgents.

The U.S. State Department responded to Ghani’s announcement Saturday with a statement saying it stood with Ghani and his offer.

“We support President Ghani’s offer to extend the cease-fire and begin peace talks,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “Peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces. The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions.”

American forces and NATO’s non-combatant Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan welcomed an extension of the cease-fire by Ghani and his offer to begin peace talks with the Taliban.

“The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions,” the mission said in a statement.

The Afghan president reiterated his offer of direct talks with the Taliban to resolve mutual differences and end the conflict. “We are ready for comprehensive negotiation. All those issues and demands that have been put forth, we are ready to discuss them at the peace talks,” Ghani said.

The Afghan government and the Taliban for the first time in more than 17 years began observing a mutual cease-fire on Friday, the opening day of the three-day Eid festival.

The temporary cessation of hostilities was being widely welcomed in and outside war-shattered Afghanistan, raising hopes it might lead to long-sought peace talks between the government and the Taliban to end years of deadly hostilities.

The government reiterated that the cease-fire was with the Taliban and did not include U.S. counterterrorism efforts against IS, al-Qaida, and other regional and international terrorist groups.

The government unilaterally suspended anti-Taliban offensive Tuesday, prompting the insurgents to stop fighting during Eid. The holiday ends Sunday.

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