- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2020

ISIS is responsible for the fatal attacks carried out on a maternity ward and a funeral procession in Afghanistan earlier this week, a senior U.S. diplomat said Friday. 

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters that both the attack on a Kabul maternity ward and a suicide bombing at a funeral procession were carried out by the Islamic State, not the Taliban as previously believed by Afghan officials.

Gunmen on Tuesday stormed the 100-bed hospital in an attack that set off an hours-long shootout with police that left 19 women, nurses and newborns dead and at least 16 injured. Local security forces have said they rescued about 100 women and children from the scene.

On the same day as the maternity ward attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 26 people at a funeral in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

“The attack at the hospital and the attack on a funeral procession were the work of ISIS,” Mr. Khalilzad told reporters Friday.

He said his team has assessed that ISIS and the Taliban “are mortal enemies,” and that ISIS is the “enemy of the peace process.”

“We urge the [Afghan] government not to play the ISIS game but to operate against it,” Mr. Khalilzad continued. “The path to peace is not straight, but there is no alternative to pushing forward with peace.”

The attacks prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to direct the country’s military to position into an “offensive” mode.

Although the Taliban denied involvement in the maternity ward assault, Mr. Ghani suggested that the government continues to view the Taliban as no less dangerous than the Islamic State.

“The appropriate response is to accelerate the peace process, not to delay it because of what ISIS has done,” Mr. Khalilzad insisted.

Since the Trump administration finalized its long-awaited Taliban peace deal in February, there have been an average of 55 Taliban attacks per day, according to figures from the Afghan government. The Pentagon has confirmed a strong uptick in the number of Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces in recent weeks.

The agreement was expected to forge the way for intra-Afghan peace talks between the government and the Taliban, but not only have the two sides failed to make serious progress in their direct talks, but they also are on the verge of even greater conflict amid evidence of increasingly violent attacks by Islamic State factions.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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