An attack at a market bazaar and a school adjacent to the airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killed 37 civilians Tuesday night and wounded another 35 people.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the deadly assault, which continued early into Wednesday morning, even after the Afghan National Army forces surrounded the nine attackers armed with machine guns. The fighters were targeting foreign forces, a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.
The attack took place while Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was on a visit to Pakistan. Despite intense pressure not to visit, Mr. Ghani was well received and the two nations discussed efforts to improve economic and security cooperation for Afghanistan and its neighbors. Ghani and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif also discussed the Taliban, and Ghani was reportedly critical of Pakistan’s failed efforts to keep Taliban fighters from crossing the border.
“We are fighting on behalf of all of you, but we are the ones who are suffering some of the worst atrocities,” Mr. Ghani said. He added that in the wake of the Peshwar attack that killed more than 130 schoolchildren there were “unintended consequences” for Afghanistan, which had to face a series of additional security measures.
Afghanistan has been dealing with insurgency threats from militants crossing the Pakistan border for years, and a growing number of terrorists have entered the country. Afghan special forces have launched over 40 operations against the Taliban, but Afghanistan remains something of a hotbed for international jihadis.
“Al-Qaida, Daesh and terrorists from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Middle East are all, unfortunately, present on our soil.” Ghani added.
Taliban attacks have been rising in Afghanistan after it was revealed in late July that Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s former leader, had been killed. The news provided a major setback for mending ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan – Islamabad is said to have influence to negotiate talks with the Taliban.
Officials have been strongly pushing for talks to happen soon. According to Antony Blinken, US deputy secretary of state, Afghan and Pakistani leaders have renewed their commitment to an “Afghan owned and Afghan led” initiative. Blinken added that a meeting between Afghan officials and an official Taliban representative last July marked “a clear desire to return to that process.”