Published: Wed, August 21, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Massive Blast Hits Kabul Wedding, 20 Injured

Massive Blast Hits Kabul Wedding, 20 Injured

The attack late Saturday claimed by an affiliate of the Islamic State group has led many Afghans to question whether an expected deal between the United States and the Taliban to end almost 18 years of fighting will bring peace to long-suffering civilians.

"Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS", said Mr Khalilzad in a tweet he sent out hours after an ISIS suicide bomber killed 63 people at a wedding party in western Afghanistan.

Islamic State fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. Under the potential accord, negotiators have agreed to pull out foreign forces in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan from harboring global jihadis like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The attack came as the Taliban and the United States tried to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with the US-backed government.

On Sunday, US President Donald Trump told reporters in New Jersey that the negotiations were going well.

"We've really got it down to probably 13,000 people and we'll be bringing it down a little bit more and then we'll decide whether or not we'll be staying longer or not", Trump said. His government has been critical of the process because Afghan officials have not been included in the talks.

At approximately 10:40 p.m. local time on Saturday evening, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in a wedding hall in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghan men investigate in a wedding hall.

The Taliban denied responsibility and condemned the blast at a west Kabul wedding hall, in a minority Shi'ite neighbourhood, packed with people celebrating a marriage.

"We want peace, not such brutal suicide attacks", said Ahmad Khan, who was burying a relative. Pictures on social media showed bodies strewn across the wedding hall amid overturned chairs and tables. He and his bride survived the blast.

After decades of carnage in Afghanistan, little things can set off alarm bells.

In a city where bombs go off nearly daily and crime is rampant, Kabul weddings typically don't have any security measures at all, and the halls themselves often have few emergency exits.

On Tuesday, community members searched people attending the memorials, and both Afghan and self-defense forces stood by as mourners at one memorial touched a banner displaying photos of dozens of the victims and wept.

The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the challenge they face in a city that sees frequent attacks by IS, the Taliban, criminals and other groups.

An Afghan cleric reads the holy Koran over the grave of a civilian during a burial ceremony.

This year s August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.

The Taliban has been fighting to expel foreign forces and re-establish a theocratic Islamic state since its ousting in October 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The bombing comes as peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban reach a pivotal stage. In that, the Islamic State affiliate's increasingly threatening presence is the top USA concern.

Weddings in Afghanistan are an easy target for militants because security is relatively lax for the usually large number of guests. Several key Republican lawmakers, as well as analysts on both sides of the aisle, expressed unease toward the overall policy of pursuing a deal with the militant Islamist group that US forces have been battling for the past 18 years. The Taliban are also expected to promise to open power-sharing talks with the government and agree to a ceasefire. The Taliban has refused to talk to the government.

Other issues include a cease-fire and intra-Afghan negotiations on the country's future.

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