Mike Pompeo (right) stands in a prayer at the transfer case containing the remains of Sgt.1st Class Elis Barreto Ortiz. AP
Afghans braced for a possible new wave of Taliban violence on Monday after President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks with the insurgent group, which vows to continue its fight against what it calls "foreign occupation."
Trump's surprise weekend announcement came shortly before a string of highly sensitive days in Afghanistan, including Monday's anniversary of the killing of anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the major Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashoura on Tuesday and Wednesday's 9/11 anniversary.
It was not immediately clear whether the US-Taliban talks will resume and when on ending nearly 18 years of fighting.
A roadside bomb blast in the capital, Kabul, on Monday wounded three civilians, said Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the city's police chief. The target was unknown, he said, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The local affiliate of the Daesh group also carries out attacks in the capital, often targeting the minority Shiite community. The blast was not in a predominantly Shiite area.
The Taliban claimed attacks on at least two districts of northeastern Takhar province overnight, with no immediate reports of casualties. A heavy gunbattle continued in the district of Khwaja Ghar but security reinforcements had arrived, said Khalil Aser, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
The Taliban attacked three provincial capitals earlier this month, even while finalizing a deal with the U.S. to end nearly 18 years of fighting. The group has defended the attacks, saying they were meant to strengthen its negotiating position.
The main highway between Kabul and the capital of the northern province of Baghlan remained blocked, a week after the Taliban attacked Puli Khumri, and sporadic gunbattles continued, said Jawad Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
Violence continued on all sides in what was the world's deadliest conflict last year.
In northern Sari Pul province, at least five women were wounded in an airstrike by the Afghan air force late Sunday, said Mohammad Ayub Ansari, district chief in Gospandi district. One woman was pregnant and lost her child and two other women were in critical condition, he said.
The air support was called in after the Taliban shot and killed two pro-government forces, leading to a gunbattle with security forces, Ansari said. An unknown number of Taliban were killed and wounded, he said.
The Taliban have not commented on that attack.
President Ashraf Ghani hopes to showcase unity at the four-day meeting — known as Loya Jirga — that brings together politicians, tribal elders and others.
President Ashraf Ghani spoke during the Muslim holiday Eid Al Adha and as US and Taliban negotiators continue their work in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office.
Ghani said the message of the five-day gathering was clear: “Afghans want peace” and offered a ceasefire, though he stressed it would not be unilateral. In the statement on Friday, the Taliban rejected a ceasefire, saying attacks will continue during Ramadan but said “fighters are very careful of civilians during any operation.”
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