KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The death toll in a suicide bombing at a Kabul wedding claimed by the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan has risen to 80, an official said Wednesday, as a U.S. envoy was set to resume talks with the Taliban on ending America’s longest war.
The initial toll in Saturday’s blast was 63, but 17 people later died of their wounds, Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi said. Thirty people were in critical condition after the attack.
The suicide bombing renewed concerns that the growing threat by the IS affiliate will mean little peace for Afghan civilians despite the U.S.-Taliban negotiations to end nearly 18 years of fighting.
“We will try and close on remaining issues,” envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter. “We’re ready. Let’s see if the Taliban are as well.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that about 13,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. He wants to bring at least some of them home before next year’s election.
“We’ve been there for 18 years. It’s ridiculous,” Trump said, adding that “we’re not really fighting; we’re a — almost more of a police force over there.” But Afghanistan remains dangerous and some U.S. presence is needed, he said.
Two U.S. service members were killed on Wednesday, the NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said in a brief statement with no details. They were the first U.S. combat deaths reported since July 29 and bring the total of U.S. service members killed this year to 19, according to the iCasualties website. More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since late 2001.
The top Taliban demand is for the estimated 20,000 U.S. and allied forces to leave, a prospect that has created widespread concern that another civil war in Afghanistan could follow as various armed parties jostle for power.
Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018, and the United Nations has said more civilians died there last year than in the past decade. Over 32,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in the past 10 years.
Khalilzad’s new discussions in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office, will seek guarantees from the insurgent group that Afghanistan, which hosted al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks, will not be used as a launch pad for global terror assaults.
Khalilzad also plans to meet with the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the negotiations. The Taliban have refused so far to negotiate with the government, dismissing it as a U.S. puppet. The insurgent group now controls roughly half of Afghanistan and is at its strongest since its 2001 defeat in the U.S.-led invasion.
There have been calls for transparency in the talks, especially from Afghan women, who fear that the progress they have made in a generation since the Taliban’s harsh rule could be bargained away.
“There’s no way to get used to the idea that the Afghan govt which, for all its flaws, was elected by Afghans to represent Afghans is not a party to these talks about the future of all Afghans,” the co-director of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, Heather Barr, tweeted Wednesday.
Intra-Afghan talks on the country’s political future are expected to follow a U.S.-Taliban agreement, which both sides earlier this month signaled was close to being finalized.
The current conflict remains largely a stalemate, with the Taliban unable to expand their territorial holdings and the Afghan government forces unable to reclaim lost land, the Pentagon’s special inspector general for Afghanistan reported Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed.