The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban was dealt yet another blow Tuesday as the Afghan government announced it was resuming offensive operations against the insurgent group following a spate of deadly terrorist attacks.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani announced the resumption of offensive operations during a televised address to the nation that took place in the wake of several deadly terrorist attacks, including one that targeted a maternity hospital that killed at least 13 people, including two newborn babies.
“I strongly condemn recent attacks on a hospital in Kabul and Nangarhar province which killed a number of innocent people including women and children,” Ghani said Tuesday.
The Taliban denied being responsible for the attack on the hospital and a second attack on a funeral procession that took place in Nangarhar province on Tuesday.
As part of the deal negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban, the Afghan government, although not party to the agreement, agreed to suspend offensive operations against the Taliban and expressed willingness to partake in a ceasefire with the insurgent group.
The “Taliban have rejected our repeated call for a ceasefire, calls for ceasefire doesn’t mean weakness,” Ghani said Tuesday, adding: “I once again call on them to embrace peace, which is not only a demand of the government but the nation and international community.”
However, in the weeks following the signing of the deal, the Taliban ramped up its attacks on Afghan soldiers and police and the number of civilian deaths attributed to the group also increased, according to the UN.
Asked about Kabul’s resumption of offensive operations against the Taliban, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday she had no new information to provide on the matter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement later Tuesday condemning the two attacks and calling them “horrific” and “unconscionable” while making no direct reference to the resumption of offensive operations by Afghanistan’s military.
“We note the Taliban have denied any responsibility and condemned both attacks as heinous. The Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Pompeo said, adding that “as long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism.”
The Pentagon referred CNN to the government of Afghanistan but said the US military would continue to conduct “defensive strikes” in support of Afghan National Security and Defense forces (ANDSF).
“The US military will continue to conduct defensive strikes against the Taliban when they attack our ANDSF partners,” Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell told CNN.
The Pentagon has recently ceased providing data on the number of Taliban attacks and the number of US airstrikes in Afghanistan, citing the sensitivities involved in the negotiations with the Taliban.
A US defense official told CNN that the US military conducted nearly 100 such defensive strikes against the Taliban during the month of March.
The Pentagon did not answer questions as to whether the US military would come to the aid of Afghan forces if they were attacked while participating in offensive operations or whether the US would provide intelligence, logistical or other support to such anti-Taliban operations.
Earlier Tuesday, Afghanistan’s national security adviser suggested that there is no point to “peace talks” when the Taliban do not intend to pursue peace.
“The attacks of the last two months show us and the world that Taliban & their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace,” Hamdullah Mohib wrote on twitter.
“If the Taliban can not control the violence, or their sponsors have now subcontracted their terror to other entities —which was one of our primary concerns from the beginning— then their (sic) seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in ‘peace talks,’ ” he added.
“The reason to pursue peace is to end this senseless violence. This is not peace, nor its beginnings,” he wrote.
“There is no real alternative to peace,” a State Department official said in response to the tweets from Hamdullah, noting that the national security adviser who has been a harsh critic of the US-Taliban talks in the past may be looking for a way to derail peace with the Taliban. The official added that without the peace process the US believes there would be more violence in Afghanistan, not less.
While the peace deal negotiated by the Trump administration continues to suffer setbacks amid rising Taliban violence, the US military has continued to withdraw troops from the country despite the Pentagon saying that the Taliban are not adhering to their commitments under the deal.
The US plans to draw down its forces in Afghanistan to about 8,600 personnel by mid-July, a reduction of some 4,000 troops from when the agreement was signed.
“We know that we can do all of the missions we need to do at 8,600, but we are not going to be blamed for not living up to our end of the agreement,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters last week.
Asked about the attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said that “it’s now time for the Afghan people to get together, to enter into a meaningful peace process, and it’s time for America to come home. We’ve got a lot to focus on here.”
CNN’s Ehsan Popalzai in Kabul contributed to this report.