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Mortar Fire Hits Afghan Capital Amid Ongoing Peace Talks

Eight people are understood to have died during attacks in Kabul.

Kabul

Mortar fire has struck a residential area of Kabul, killing eight people and injuring more than 30 others, reports suggest.

The attack on Saturday came just hours before outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held what are likely his last peace meetings in Qatar, with the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators.

Negotiations are based on a reduction in violence from militant groups and an agreed prisoner swap between the government and the Taliban, enabling further US troop withdrawal from the country.

Recent violence in the Afghan capital, which has been blamed on so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, saw at least one shell hit the Iranian Embassy compound – although it is understood this strike did not leave any casualties.

Crucially, the national government was not present when the US brokered the deal in February, while the Taliban remain unwilling to cease violence against local forces until the foreign presence has left Afghanistan.

The group has, however, held to its promise not to attack US and NATO troops.

Mike Pompeo at Arctic Council meeting in Finland
The attacks in Kabul came just before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held peace meetings in Qatar (Picture: PA).

The US has been pressing in recent weeks for a reduction in violence, while the Afghan government has been demanding a ceasefire.

The Taliban has refused, saying a ceasefire will be part of negotiations.

There are many within the Afghan government who want February’s peace deal scrapped.

At the peace talks, Mr Pompeo told Afghan government negotiators that the US will “sit on the side and help where we can” in talks with Taliban militants.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted that further prisoner releases were discussed in the meeting, in addition to those that the two warring sides committed to ahead of peace talks under the US deal.

Mr Naeem said the Taliban also repeated their demand that Taliban leaders be removed from the United Nations sanctions list.

This year has seen a sharp rise in violence in Afghanistan and a surge of attacks by the Taliban against the country’s security forces, since the start of peace talks in September.

The announcement this week that the United States will accelerate its planned troop withdrawal, leaving about 2,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan by mid-January, has put more pressure on discussions.

Cover image: Kabul in 2015 (Picture: Crown Copyright).