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The Taliban has launched a major attack in Afghanistan’s capital

It came as the US and the insurgent group are engaged in peace talks.

Smoke rises from the scene of a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 1, 2019.
Smoke rises from the scene of a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 1, 2019.
Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

An attack on Monday by the Taliban in Afghanistan has killed roughly 40 people — including children — and injured around 100 more. It’s a stunning reminder of how bad the situation in the country remains after nearly two decades of war and relatively little attention paid by President Donald Trump and 2020 Democrats.

The Taliban took responsibility for a multifaceted strike in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, which included a car bomb and a lengthy gun fight. A private war museum, a television station, schools, and sports agencies were damaged by the Taliban’s blast.

Nooria Nazhat, the spokesperson for Afghanistan’s ministry of education, told the New York Times that at least 51 students were wounded when the car bomb that initiated the attack at rush hour damaged two school buildings.

That’s tragic, not least because just two days earlier Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib tweeted, “Our youngest citizens have the most to gain from peace and security.”

A gun fight between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces lasted around eight hours after the attackers bombed the ministry of defense and made their way inside the compound. An unknown number of security forces and all five insurgents are dead.

It’s likely the death and injury toll will continue to rise in the next few hours and days.

For many who witnessed the attack, it was terrible. “We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us,” Zaher Usman, who works at Afghanistan’s culture ministry just 500 feet from the blast, told the AFP on Monday. “When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has condemned the attack, calling it a crime against humanity.

Mohib told me hours after the assault that “it was an indiscriminate attack that took the lives of many innocent civilians, many of whom were kids. We condemn it in the strongest terms.”

“We face a brutal and cruel enemy who has no regard for any values or principles,” he continued. “I visited some of the victims tonight in the hospital, and I saw children as young as 7 years old. We are grieved by the casualties but we stand strong in defiance of our people, our country and our fundamental rights of freedom.”

The question now is why the Taliban, an Islamic insurgent group that harbored al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks, chose to launch such a devastating assault. The answer may lie in the timing.

The attack may scuttle US-Taliban peace talks

Negotiators from the US and the Taliban began a seventh round of peace talks on Saturday in Qatar. The main discussion is about how to negotiate the withdrawal of US troops — which Trump wants — in exchange for guarantees that the Taliban won’t allow terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan again.

But the talks have been marred by violence. On Friday and Saturday, for example, around 300 Afghan and Taliban fighters died in multiple attacks. An uptick in fighting was always likely as the spring season is typically the most violent in the country. The Taliban announced in April that it would initiate a bloody spring offensive, and dozens from both sides are dying daily.

The Washington Post reports that the talks underway on Monday were set back by the latest attack. Which leads to an important question: Why would the Taliban launch such an assault? Experts I spoke to have two theories.

One is that the insurgents hope to put pressure on the US by eroding its will to stay in the country. The other is that there remain factions inside the Taliban that don’t want to negotiate peace and therefore continue to exact violence in the capital and elsewhere. As of now, it’s unclear which theory best explains the timing of this attack.

What is clear is that few politicians in the US, especially those running for president, are paying attention. Trump barely mentions the war in Afghanistan, and 2020 Democrats have largely left the situation untouched, other than to say they want to end America’s “endless wars.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) did get into an argument about whether the US should remain engaged in Afghanistan or get out of the country entirely during the first Democratic presidential debate last week. But that’s about the extent of the Afghanistan discussion.

When I asked Daniel Bolger, a retired Army three-star general who served in Afghanistan, what the US should do in response to the Taliban attack, he said: “Leave.”

“We have lost too many of our men and women, and the poor Afghan people have lost even more,” he continued. “This thing has dragged on way too long with no end in sight. The Afghans kill each other. It’s tragic, but it’s not our war.”

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