Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Taliban say killing of leader's brother will not derail US talks

The younger brother of Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, Hafiz Ahmadullah, was leading prayers when he was killed by a bomb

US troops from the 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 2-87, 3BCT under Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force, and Afghan National Army soldiers conduct a joint security patrol in the center of Kandalay village, as a fire fight against Taliban insurgents erupts in the outskirts of the village, in Kandahar province southern Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD
US troops from the 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 2-87, 3BCT under Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force, and Afghan National Army soldiers conduct a joint security patrol in the center of Kandalay village, as a fire fight against Taliban insurgents erupts in the outskirts of the village, in Kandahar province southern Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD

Afghan Taliban officials said on Saturday the killing of their leader's brother would not derail talks with the United States aimed at securing the withdrawal of American troops.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bomb that killed the younger brother of Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada near the Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday.

It occurred after both Taliban and US officials have reported progress in talks on an agreement centered on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban security guarantee.

“If someone thinks martyring our leaders would stop us from our goal they’re living in a fool’s paradise,” a Taliban leader said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“We are close to our goals,” he said, referring to the talks with the United States. He declined to be identified.

The militants have been fighting to expel foreign forces and set up an Islamic state since they were ousted in October 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Both US negotiators and the Taliban have reported progress after eight rounds of talks since late last year but the violence has not eased.

The bomb at the mosque near Quetta killed four people, and wounded 20, Pakistani police said.

Hafiz Ahmadullah, the Taliban leader’s brother, was leading prayers when it exploded. One of the leader’s sons was wounded, Taliban officials said.

Pakistani police confirmed that one of the dead had been identified as Hafiz Ahmadullah but said they could not confirm if he was a brother of the Taliban leader. Pakistan denies accusations that it supports the Taliban but many members live there.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, a suicide bomber attacked a wedding reception on Saturday night. An interior ministry spokesman said there were tens of casualties, both wounded and dead.

There was no claim of responsibility.

A US pullout has raised fears Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could enable the return of Taliban rule and give international militants a sanctuary.

Under the expected deal, the Taliban, in exchange for a US commitment on a withdrawal, would guarantee Afghanistan would not be a sanctuary for militants to expand and plot new attacks, both sides have said.

The Taliban are also expected to make a commitment to open power-sharing talks with the US-backed government and agree to a ceasefire.

Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told a news briefing any deal had to include a ceasefire and a US withdrawal would be based on conditions.

A second Taliban official, speaking from Doha, where the Taliban have a political office and where the talks have been held, said preparations were being made for a meaningful final round.

“We’ve solved most issues,” said the official, who also declined to be identified.

No date has been set for more talks.

The Taliban were considering a ceasefire in places from which US forces withdraw, the second official said.

About 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations.

The war has ground into a stalemate, with casualties rising among civilians as well as combatants.

Updated: August 18, 2019 05:34 PM

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