‘Historic’ U.S.-Taliban pact to be signed soon, says Taliban leader

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban’s deputy leader said the group would soon sign a agreement with the United States to reduce violence for seven days, adding that militant commanders were “fully committed” to observing the “historic” accord.

“That we today stand at the threshold of a peace agreement with the United States is no small milestone,” Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, in the first significant public statement by a Taliban leader on the accord for a week-long reduction in violence (RIV).

The agreement in principle, which was struck during negotiations between U.S. and Taliban representatives in Qatar, could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

“Achieving the potential of the agreement, ensuring its success and earning lasting peace will depend on an equally scrupulous observance by the United States of each of its commitments,” wrote Haqqani, who is also head of the Pakistan-linked Haqqani Network.

Clashes between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters have continued, but Afghanistan’s acting interior minister said on Tuesday an agreement to cut violence would be enforced within five days.

Haqqani also addressed fears about Afghanistan becoming once again a springboard for Islamist militants, calling such concerns “inflated.”

Writing about how women’s rights in Afghanistan would look if foreign forces left, Haqqani envisioned an “Islamic system” in which “the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected.”

The Taliban banned women from education and work and only let them leave their homes in the company of a male relative. Overnight, women disappeared behind the all-enveloping burqa, their activities restricted to their homes.

Haqqani stressed in the piece the need for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces. Officials in Afghanistan and the United States have said a certain number of troops would remain in the country to ensure stability.

The Afghan presidential palace reacted strongly to the article.

“It is sad that the (New York Times) has given their platform to an individual who is on a designated terrorist list. He and his network are behind ruthless attacks against Afghans and foreigners,” Sediq Sediqqi, a palace spokesman, told Reuters.

Meanwhile, recently reelected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for the second time in 24 hours on Thursday to discuss issues related to peace talks and the details of the RIV, Sediqqi said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Helen Popper)

No let up in Taliban attacks, fresh orders awaited over deal with U.S.

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces overnight, and militant commanders said on Monday insurgency operations would go-ahead until they receive fresh instructions based on a deal with the United States to reduce violence in the country.

Last week, a senior U.S. administration official said negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar had resulted in and agreement in principle for a week-long reduction of violence, but the seven-day period had not commenced. The official said the agreement covered all Afghan forces, and would be closely monitored.

“Our leadership hasn’t conveyed any message about a ceasefire to us,” a Taliban commander in Helmand, a southern province that has seen some of the fiercest fighting.

Commanders in Paktika and Nangarhar – two other provinces regarded as strongholds for the Taliban – also said they would continue their attacks as planned.

On Sunday night, Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces manning a checkpoint in the northern province of Kunduz. According to a statement by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, they killed 19 security personnel.

The Afghan defense ministry confirmed the attack in a statement but put the death toll at five. It also said retaliatory air strikes were conducted against the militants.

A Taliban spokesman also issued a statement on Monday saying a Afghan military helicopter had been shot down in Nimroz province, but an official there said the helicopter made an emergency landing and had not been attacked.

Despite the violence on the ground, a senior Taliban leader in Doha confirmed a deal with the United States is set to be signed by the end of February in a “signing ceremony” in Doha.

Leaders of the United Nations, European Union and Islamic nations and neighboring countries would be invited to the attend, Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy chief of the Taliban’s Doha office, was quoted as saying by Nunn Asia – a pro-Taliban website with strong links to the group’s leadership.

“Soon after signing the peace accord, the United States will release 5,000 of our prisoners and we will free 1,000 of theirs,” Hanafi said.

Successful implementation of the deal would move the United States closer to a further drawdown of troop levels in Afghanistan, meeting an objective for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to stop the “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

There remains a long way to go to a peace settlement and end to the nearly two-decade-old U.S. military presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda. U.S. officials have been clear that the 13,000 U.S. troops will be cut to about 8,600 this year, with or without a withdrawal deal.

(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Additional Reporting by Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Afghanistan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S., Taliban reach violence reduction pact that could lead to U.S. withdrawal

By Paul Carrel, Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk

MUNICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has reached agreement with the Taliban on a weeklong reduction of violence that could lead to U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Friday, while cautioning that Taliban needed to honor commitments for the accord to stick.

The announcement followed protracted negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha between the United States and the Taliban and a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the Munich Security Conference.

A deeper agreement paving the way for a major U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a political boost for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly promised to stop “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

“It was violence that derailed the signing of the agreement in September. Now we have an agreement on the reduction of violence. And, should the Talibs implement what they’ve committed to doing, we will move forward with the agreement,” the senior administration official told reporters in Munich.

He added that the agreement was very specific and covered all Afghan forces, saying the U.S. military would be monitoring violence levels to verify whether or not the Taliban was honoring it.

“And our commitment, in terms of reduction of forces which is both conditions based and in phases is very much tied to delivery on the commitments that they have made, and will be,” the official said.

There are about 13,000 U.S. troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The United States is aiming to cut troop numbers to about 9,000, a Western diplomat told Reuters earlier this week.

Doha has been the venue for talks between the warring sides since 2018 even as fighting has continued across the country, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers as the Taliban have expanded their territorial control.

Last month the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government agency, assessed that there had been a record-high number of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the last three months of 2019.

The Taliban stages near-daily attacks and though they are negotiating with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the armed group refuses to talk directly to Ghani’s government, calling it a “puppet” of the West.

Once the reduction of violence holds within the seven-day period, the talks would then expand into the next phase, dubbed the inter-Afghan dialogue, involving all parties.

“We’d like to see the Afghan government select a delegation that could go to negotiations. It should be an inclusive delegation that by the government. And then ceasefire comprehensive and permanent ceasefire that ends the Afghan war which will be the one of the first topics of the of the negotiations,” the official said.

He added, while the seven-day clock had not yet begun, he hoped it would “very soon.”

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken and Tom Brown)

U.S., Taliban have negotiated proposal for seven-day reduction in violence: Pentagon chief

(Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that the United States and the Taliban had negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence.

Sources had told Reuters that a U.S.-Taliban peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduces violence, which could lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” Esper told reporters during a news conference in Brussels at NATO headquarters.

“I’m here today consulting with allies about this proposal, and we’ve had a series of productive bilateral and collective meetings about the path forward,” he added.

The tentative timeline shared with Reuters by sources came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there had been a possible breakthrough in U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar.

The talks had been deadlocked in part over a U.S. demand that the insurgents agree to sharply reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.

There are about 13,000 U.S. troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

“It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward – if we go forward,” Esper added.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. recovers remains from Afghanistan plane crash, verifying identities: official

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down.

Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where the U.S. military aircraft crashed as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.

The U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said multiple attempts had been made to recover the remains but had been hampered because of the terrain and weather.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

Security forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving a report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.

“As per our information, there are four bodies and two onboard were alive and they are missing,” Wardak said, adding that the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.

The attempt was repelled, however, he told Reuters, but added that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.

“Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.

The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.

The crash came as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with an American invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. military plane crashes in Afghanistan, Taliban claims responsibility

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A plane which U.S. officials described as a small U.S. military aircraft crashed in a Taliban-controlled area of central Afghanistan on Monday, and the insurgent group claimed to have brought it down.

The U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were no indications so far that the plane had been brought down by enemy activity. One of the officials said there were believed to be fewer than 10 people on board.

Pictures and a video on social media purportedly from the crash site showed what could be the remains of a Bombardier E-11A aircraft.

Senior Afghan officials told Reuters the authorities had rushed local personnel to locate and identify the wreckage, in a mountainous area partly controlled by the Taliban. Reuters journalists filmed Afghan soldiers heading toward the snow-covered mountains where the plane crashed in Ghazni province.

“The plane which was on an intelligence mission, was brought down in Sado Khel area of Deh Yak district of Ghazni province,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in a statement.

Mujahid did not say how fighters had brought the plane down. He said the crew on board included high ranking U.S. officers. A senior defense official denied that senior American officers were involved.

The Taliban control large parts of Ghazni province. The militant group, which has been waging a war against U.S.- led forces since 2001, often exaggerates enemy casualty figures.

Civilian airline Ariana Afghan Airlines denied initial reports that it was the owner of the plane.

“It does not belong to Ariana because the two flights managed by Ariana today, from Herat to Kabul and Herat to Delhi, are safe,” its acting CEO, Mirwais Mirzakwal, told Reuters.

Two officials from Ghazni province said the crashed aircraft appeared to belong to a foreign company.

“There is no exact information on casualties and the name of the airline,” Ghazni provincial governor Wahidullah Kaleemzai told private broadcast

Taliban attack on U.S. military base kills one, injures scores

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – Suicide bombers struck the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least one person and injuring scores in a major attack that could scupper plans to revive peace talks between the United States and the Taliban.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck the Bagram air base north of Kabul.

“First, a heavy-duty Mazda vehicle struck the wall of the American base,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. “Later several mujahideen equipped with light and heavy weapons were able to attack the American occupiers.”

The Taliban spokesman claimed the attack was still ongoing. The U.S.-led military coalition said the attack was “quickly contained and repelled”.

Abdul Shukoor Qudosi, the district governor of Bagram district, said 87 people were injured and one woman was killed, and that a clearance operation was still ongoing.

Five servicemen from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition, were among those injured, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement. The majority of casualties were Afghan.

“A 30-minute clash also happened between the attackers, who obviously wanted to enter the base, and foreign forces,” said Wahida Shahkar, a spokeswoman for the governor of Parwan province, which includes the Bagram district.

Two attackers detonated vehicles laden with explosives at the southern entrance to the base, while five more opened fire. It was not immediately clear how many of the five gunmen were killed, Shahkar said.

A medical base being built for locals was badly damaged, the coalition of foreign forces in Afghanistan said in a statement. The Taliban denied this.

U.S. President Donald Trump called off talks with the Taliban in September after an attack by the group killed an American soldier. The Taliban controls more territory than at any point since being ousted from power by Afghan foes with U.S. air support in 2001.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul and Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Alasdair Pal)

Afghan women brave rockets for rights

By Rina Chandran

KABUL (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the decade since launching a radio station in northern Afghanistan, Sediqa Sherzai has braved mines and rocket attacks as the Taliban seeks to silence her. But she has kept going.

Fawzia Koofi, the country’s first female deputy of the lower house of parliament, has survived assassination and kidnap attempts. Last year, she was banned from running for re-election – so she set up her own party.

Women have made huge strides in the conservative country since a ban during Taliban rule of 1996 to 2001 from school, work, politics and going outside without a male relative.

While growing numbers of women now complete education and work in previously male bastions, they continue to face harassment and hurdles, human rights activists say.

“Women are half the population, and should have the same rights and opportunities as men in this country,” said Sheila Qayumi, a programme coordinator at Equality for Peace and Democracy, which advocates for more women in politics.

“But women are still denied education, forced to marry young, kept from working, and treated no better than animals in the provinces,” she said.

Four decades of war, from occupation to internal fighting, have destroyed the economy, rendering it among the poorest in the world, with few jobs for a mostly young population.

Women occupy a particularly precarious place, as they face cultural barriers and hostility – not just from conservative family members, but also hardline Islamist groups – for pursuing financial independence and greater equality, Qayumi said.

OPEN MINDS

Nearly half of Afghan women would rather leave their war-torn country permanently if they could, citing poverty and limited opportunities, according to a Gallup poll in September.

On her radio broadcasts in Kunduz, Sherzai discusses issues from education to independence, domestic violence, inheritance rights and women’s right to vote – and stand for elections.

Most women are not aware of their rights, or are too scared to exercise them, said Sherzai, whose staff are mostly women.

“My goal is to educate women on their rights, and open their minds,” she said, speaking through a translator.

“I want to convince families to let their daughters study, to not marry them off young, and to respect their choices.”

Funding for the station is uncertain, and her family fears for her safety, but she has never thought about quitting, she said, even when she had to broadcast from home after the station was attacked and her equipment stolen.

“My dream is that Afghan women can be safe and free to do what they wish to do, without men stopping them,” Sherzai said in an interview on a visit to the capital.

She asked that her picture not be taken for safety reasons.

Across the country, efforts are underway to make public spaces safer and more open to women.

While Afghan women lag on many measures, a quota that reserves 68 of 250 seats in the lower house of parliament gives them a higher representation than the global average of 24%.

The quota makes it easier for women to enter politics, but they lack money and run greater security risks, said Koofi.

“Being a female politician is hard everywhere – we are scrutinised for our looks and our clothing, and we are not taken seriously,” she said in an interview in her office.

“In Afghanistan, men don’t accept women in the public sphere, and our views are not respected even in parliament.”

MAYORS, DE-MINERS

An international aid effort that arrived with foreign forces in 2001 prioritised girls’ education and women’s empowerment.

From a female de-mining team in Bamiyan province to street singers in Kabul, women have since won more independence.

But there are fears that a final withdrawal of U.S. troops, the winding down of international engagement and the re-emergence of the Taliban may reverse gains.

Turnout of women voters in September’s presidential election was low amid security threats and concerns over facial recognition technology.

In the provinces, the challenges are still greater.

Zarifa Ghafari, 26, mayor of Maidan Shahr in restive Wardak province, has said she expects to be assassinated. She was recently named on BBC’s list of 100 women of 2019.

Khadija Ahmadi is the only other female mayor in the country, in the city of Nili in the remote Daykundi province.

It has taken her a while to assert authority locally and to get federal authorities in Kabul to allocate resources.

“The men would not listen to me at first. Many have come around after they realised I am persistent and can get the work done,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Yet women are constantly thwarted.

Last year, Koofi was one of several members of parliament disqualified from contesting the elections for allegedly running private armed militias and possessing illegal weapons – charges she denied and challenged.

Koofi recently set up a political party, Movement of Change for Afghanistan, becoming the first Afghan woman to do so.

The 44-year-old also took part in so-called intra-Afghan talks aimed at bringing together Taliban representatives and other Afghans to find a way to end the war.

Women were also included for the first time in the Taliban delegation at the peace talks, as the militant group projects a more moderate image.

“Women have been the worst victims of the war, so we must have a say in the future of this country,” Koofi said.

“It’s not enough to just fill a quota; we have to bring women to the forefront of politics, to leadership positions, and be a part of national decision making,” she said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Taliban, U.S. envoy in Pakistan to review broken peace talks

By Asif Shahzad and Charlotte Greenfield

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Afghan Taliban officials were due in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of reviving talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s foreign ministry and the insurgent group said.

The high-profile Taliban delegation was arriving as the top U.S. diplomat involved in talks with the militants, Zalmay Khalilzad, also met government officials in Islamabad.

It was not clear if the Taliban would meet Khalilzad, though one senior Pakistani government official said that might happen.

The Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders, was due to discuss “important issues” with Pakistani officials, spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.

The visit, the latest stop on a tour of regional powers including Russia, China and Iran by Taliban officials, comes after efforts by the militants and the United States to reach a deal allowing for the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces broke down last month.

“The visit would provide the opportunity to review the progress made under U.S.-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It said a meeting between the insurgents and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was being finalized.

Khalilzad, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, has been meeting Pakistani officials in Islamabad following discussions between Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in the United States.

“These consultations follow discussions held between the United States and Pakistan during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week,” said a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad via email.

The spokesman did not say if Khalilzad was still in Pakistan on Wednesday or if he planned to meet the Taliban officials. A top Pakistan government official told Reuters that the Taliban would likely meet Khan, and that, “we’re trying that we will convince the Taliban that the delegation also meets Zalmay Khalilzad”.

The official said the meetings would focus on attempting to convince the Taliban to include the Afghan government in the peace talks. The insurgents have previously refused to negotiate with what they call an illegitimate “puppet” regime in Kabul.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter that the Afghan government should be involved in any peace process.

“No progress will be imminent if a peace process is not owned and led by the Afghan government,” he said.

PROGRESS ON PEACE?

The United States has long considered Pakistani cooperation crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

Trump last month halted the talks with the Taliban, aimed at striking a deal allowing U.S. and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a U.S. solder and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

The Taliban delegation would inform Pakistan’s leadership of the factors that derailed the talks, said a Taliban official who declined to be identified. The Taliban also planned to follow up on Khan’s recent comment that he would try to convince Trump to resume the talks, the Taliban official said.

Baradar, the head of the delegation, was making his first known visit to Pakistan since he was released from a Pakistani jail a year ago.

Previously the coordinator of the group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, he was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agencies.

The U.S. and Taliban said last month, shortly before talks broke off, that they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some U.S. security officials and within the Afghan government that a U.S. withdrawal could plunge the country into even more conflict and open the way for a resurgence of Islamist militant factions.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar, Pakistan and Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Charlotte Greenfield and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Rod Nickel in Kabul and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Taliban attacks kill 48, Afghan leader unhurt as bomber targets rally

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban suicide bombers killed 48 people in two separate attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the deadliest taking place near an election rally by President Ashraf Ghani, though he was unhurt.

The attacks happened 11 days before Afghanistan’s presidential election, which Taliban commanders have vowed to violently disrupt, and follow collapsed peace talks between the United States and the insurgent group.

Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term in voting on Sept. 28, was due to address a rally in Charikar, the capital of central Parwan province, when a suicide bomber attacked the gathering.

The blast killed 26 people and wounded 42, said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the interior ministry.

“When the people were entering the police camp, an old man riding a motorcycle arrived on the highway and detonated his explosives, causing casualties,” said Parwan province’s police chief Mohammad Mahfooz Walizada.

In the wake of the attack, bodies littered the dusty ground as smoke rose from the site of the explosion, a giant blue billboard bearing the face of Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh looming over the scene.

With sirens wailing, rescuers rushed to lift the wounded into the backs of pick-up trucks for evacuation.

“Women and children are among them and most of the victims seem to be the civilians,” said Abdul Qasim Sangin, head of Parwan’s provincial hospital.

The president was nearby but unharmed, and later took to Twitter to condemn the bombing at the rally.

“Taliban tried to break this unity by targeting innocent civilians,” he wrote. “They shamelessly accepted responsibility at a time when they’re cloaking acts of terror as efforts for peace.”

“PEOPLE WERE GIVEN WARNING”

In a separate incident, a man on foot blew himself up in the center of the capital Kabul, sending ambulances and Afghan forces rushing to the blast site.

“I was waiting at the entrance of the recruitment center,” said Mustafa Ghiasi, lying on a hospital bed after being wounded in the explosion. “I was behind two men in line when suddenly the blast struck.”

Twenty-two people were killed, and 38 were wounded, said Rahimi, the interior ministry spokesman. Most of the dead were civilians, including women and children, though six were security force members.

The Taliban said it carried out the two attacks, and a statement issued by a spokesman for the insurgents said they were aimed at security forces.

“People were given warning,” the statement said.

“Do not take part in the puppet administration’s election rallies, because all such gatherings are our military target,” said the statement. “If, despite the warning, someone get hurt, they themselves are to blame.”

Addressing the Kabul attack, Afghanistan’s president lashed out at the Taliban as the “coward enemy” for targeting civilians.

“I offer my heartfelt condolences to victims of today’s tragedies in Kabul and Parwan and pray for speedy recovery of those who were wounded,” Ghani wrote on his official Twitter account. “We stand united in this hour of grief.”

Pakistan, which denies accusations that it shelters the Taliban, also condemned the attack.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families,” it said in a statement.

Security at rallies across the country has been tight following threats by the Taliban to attack meetings and polling stations. The group has vowed to intensify clashes with Afghan and foreign forces to dissuade people from voting in the upcoming elections.

Last week, peace talks between the United States and the Taliban collapsed. The two sides had been seeking to reach an accord on the withdrawal of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgents.

The negotiations, which did not include the Afghan government, were intended as a prelude to wider peace negotiations to end more than more 40 years of war in Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Hameed Farzad, Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by William Maclean and Alex Richardson)