Afghanistan vows to crush Islamic State havens after attack

August 19, 2019

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President Ashraf Ghani's comments on Monday came as Afghanistan mourns at least 63 people, including children, killed in the Kabul bombing at a wedding hall late on Saturday night. Close to 200 others were wounded. — AFP/File
President Ashraf Ghani's comments on Monday came as Afghanistan mourns at least 63 people, including children, killed in the Kabul bombing at a wedding hall late on Saturday night. Close to 200 others were wounded. — AFP/File

Afghanistan's president on Monday vowed to "eliminate" all safe havens of the militant Islamic State group as the country marked a subdued 100th Independence Day after a horrific wedding attack claimed by the local IS affiliate.

President Ashraf Ghani's comments came as Afghanistan mourns at least 63 people, including children, killed in the Kabul bombing at a wedding hall late on Saturday night. Close to 200 others were wounded.

Many outraged Afghans ask whether an approaching deal between the United States and the Taliban to end nearly 18 years of fighting America's longest war will bring peace to long-suffering civilians. The bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of a dancing crowd, and the IS affiliate later said he had targeted a gathering of minority Shias, whom it views as apostates deserving of death.

Both the bride and groom survived, and in an emotional interview with local broadcaster Tolo News the distraught groom, Mirwais Alani, said their lives were devastated within seconds.

A sharply worded Taliban statement questioned why the US failed to identify the attackers in advance. Another Taliban statement marking the independence day said to "leave Afghanistan to the Afghans". More than anything in its nearly year-long negotiations with the US, the Taliban want some 20,000 US and allied forces to withdraw from the country.

The US envoy in talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Sunday said the peace process should be accelerated to help Afghanistan defeat the IS affiliate.

But Ghani on Monday asserted that the Taliban, whom the US now hopes will help to curb the IS affiliate's rise, are just as much to blame. His government is openly frustrated at being sidelined from the US talks with the insurgent group, which regards the Afghan government as a US puppet.

The Taliban "have created the platform for terrorists" with its own brutal assaults on schools, mosques and other public places over the years, the president said.

More than 32,000 civilians in Afghanistan have been killed in the past decade, the United Nations said earlier this year. More children were killed last year 927 than in any other over the past decade by all actors, the UN said, including in operations against insurgent hideouts carried out international forces.

"We will take revenge for every civilian drop of blood," Ghani declared. "Our struggle will continue against (IS), we will take revenge and will root them out."

He urged the international community to join those efforts.

He once again accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for militants. The IS affiliate's claim of the wedding attack had alleged that it was carried out by a Pakistani, but the claim was strongly rubbished by the Foreign Office (FO).

"Pakistan categorically rejects reports in a section of the media, based on a reported ISIS claim of responsibility for the heinous terrorist attack on a wedding party in Kabul, and implicating a Pakistani national.

"Pakistan rejects these baseless allegations. It is important for the media to discern the propaganda objectives of terrorist organisations aimed at creating misunderstandings," the FO had said.

Nonetheless, Ghani called on people in Pakistan "who very much want peace" to "help identify the IS safe havens there".

Trump on Sunday told reporters he doesn't want Afghanistan to be a "laboratory for terror". He was briefed on Friday on the progress of the US-Taliban talks, of which few details have emerged.

In a message marking Afghanistan's independence and "century of resilience", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the weekend wedding bombing "an attack against humanity". It was one of many international expressions of condemnation pouring in following the attack.

Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui