Taliban increases attacks as US and NATO begin to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.
The United States has welcomed an announcement by the Taliban that a three-day ceasefire would come into effect in Afghanistan to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday, but urged the group to agree to a more long-term truce.
“We do welcome this announcement and any move that allows the Afghan people a reprieve from violence,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said during a news conference in Washington, DC on Monday.
“We urge the Taliban to extend this ceasefire and order a significant reduction in violence,” Price said.
The Taliban said earlier on Monday that the ceasefire would come into effect later this week for the holiday, which takes place at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Hours earlier, a roadside bomb blew up a bus in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens, the Reuters news agency reported.
A devastating bombing on May 8 of a school in Kabul killed 58 people and injured more than 100, many of them schoolgirls.
The US has been calling on the Taliban to end attacks against civilians and Afghan government police and military forces as US and NATO troops prepare to withdraw from the country by a September deadline.
The US is also urging the Taliban to agree to a permanent ceasefire and political settlement to end the violence, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter.
2/2 But Afghans deserve much more: a political settlement & a permanent ceasefire. We therefore urge accelerated negotiations among Afghans on a political settlement and an end to this senseless war. This is what the Afghan people yearn for. The United States stands with them.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) May 10, 2021
President Joe Biden has ordered most US forces to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington that prompted the US invasion of the country.
The Biden administration has said the US will maintain an embassy in Kabul and military capabilities to mount counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan even as US troops leave.
“We will have resources in the region and over-the-horizon capacity, should threats emerge,” Price said on Monday.
During the weekend, a series of three blasts rocked a joint school for boys and girls in a Shia neighbourhood of west Kabul when students were finishing classes and heading home.
The Taliban condemned the attack and has denied responsibility. Price said the US was still working to determine who was behind the blast.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has declared Tuesday a national day of mourning following the deadly attack.
Separately in Kabul on Monday, Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa met Ghani to offer Pakistan’s support for political negotiations with the Taliban.
“We will always support [an] ‘Afghan led-Afghan owned’ peace process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders,” a Pakistani military statement said.
General Bajwa was accompanied in the meeting by British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter. The United Kingdom has about 750 troops among the NATO contingent of 7,000 in Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, Pakistan has been negotiating with rebel fighters to convince them to commit to a ceasefire, Taliban and diplomatic sources told Reuters.