- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2017

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Islamabad is refusing to play the blame game with its Afghan neighbors over who was responsible for Wednesday’s massive suicide attack in Kabul, which left hundreds of civilians wounded or dead.

“It is outright barbaric terrorism, and we should condemn it with all the might that we have,” Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Aizaz Chaudhry said during an interview Thursday. Wednesday’s attack should serve to “strengthen our resolve” to work with Kabul on counterterrorism operations, he added in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

But Mr. Chaudhry vehemently denied accusations by Afghan intelligence that the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network was responsible for the massive truck bomb, which killed 90 people and wounded over 400 and decimated Kabul’s diplomatic sector.

Operating from safe havens in northwest Pakistan’s infamous North Waziristan region, Haqqani Network earned a reputation throughout the war for its well-calculated and savage attacks against U.S., Afghan and allied troops in mainly in eastern and central Afghanistan. Kabul has also alleged the group receives training and support from Pakistan’s intelligence services.

The Haqqani Network “is on the run, as far as we are concerned,” in the wake of large-scale counterterrorism offensives in North Waziristan and elsewhere within Pakistan’s volatile tribal region, Mr. Chaudhry said.

“They have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there,” he added. “Scapegoating Pakistan for failures in Afghanistan will not help” the security situation in either country, he said.

“It is too simplistic to say all of these [problems] are because of Pakistan … and we have not entered into this blame game because of that,” Mr. Chaudhry noted.

Officials with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency known as the National Directorate of Security claim a Haqqani suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden sewage tanker truck toward the chain of checkpoints and blast walls ringing the secure Green Zone sector in downtown Kabul.

As one of the most secure areas in central Kabul, the Green Zone is home to the U.S. Embassy, the Afghan presidential palace as well as several foreign embassies. After attempting to breach the secure zone, the bomber detonated his deadly ordnance near the German Embassy as the surrounding streets were packed with rush-hour traffic.

The attack was one of the worst suicide attacks to hit the capital since U.S. and NATO forces ended combat operations in the country back in 2014.

But on Thursday, Mr. Chaudhry noted that only Afghan intelligence officials had linked the Haqqanis to Wednesday’s blast, adding the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had yet to endorse the findings.

He also questioned how Afghan intelligence officials were able to determine responsibility for the strike so quickly. “If you were so good, that within seconds [of the attack] you can know who did it, then you should have also known when they were coming,” he quipped.

The bombing underscored the continued violence Afghans face across the country from extremist groups over the course of the 15-year war there. President Trump’s national security team is still wrangling with a new battle plan for Afghanistan.

The White House is reportedly weighing a plan to send an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops into Afghanistan. Should NATO match Washington’s proposed force increases for the Afghan mission, as many as 10,000 new U.S. and NATO troops may be heading to the country.

Roughly 8,400 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, the majority of which are advising Afghan forces under Operation Resolute Support.

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