- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2019

Islamic State terrorists claimed responsibility Sunday for a suicide bombing that killed 63 people at a wedding in Kabul and underscored the threat of ongoing violence in Afghanistan even if the Trump administration reaches a peace deal with the nation’s other major militant group, the Taliban.

With the fate of U.S.-Taliban talks — and the prospect of a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan — still to be determined, this weekend’s bombing set nerves on edge in Kabul and in Washington.

Questions have long swirled over the extent to which the Sunni Muslim Taliban provides safe-haven for Sunni extremist Islamic State factions in Afghanistan.

Reuters reported that Saturday night’s attack targeted a wedding hall in predominantly Shi’ite Muslim neighborhood of west Kabul. Islamic State operatives claimed responsibility for the attack through the messaging website Telegram and said its suicide bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of “infidels,” the news agency reported.

The bombing came just a day after President Trump was briefed by U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on the state of months-long peace talks with the Taliban — a briefing that came as American lawmakers rolled out legislation to set conditions of Mr. Trump’s hoped-for U.S. troop withdrawal.

There are currently about 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a significantly lower figure than peak numbers that occurred during the decade after American forces invaded the country following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Those attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, a predecessor terrorist group to the Islamic State that was being given safe-haven by the Taliban in Afghanistan at the time.

The White House said Friday that the Khalilzad briefing centered on “ongoing negotiations around [an] eventual peace and reconciliation agreement with the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan.”

Lauren Meier contributed to this report.

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