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Deadly Islamic State Mortar Attack Rattles Residential Area in Afghanistan

Mortars slammed into a residential area of the Afghan capital, killing eight people on Saturday, hours before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held what are likely his last meetings with the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators trying to hammer out a peace deal.

The attack in Kabul, which was blamed on Islamic State militants, also injured 31 people.

The assault came as peace talks were underway in Qatar, where Pompeo told Afghan government negotiators that the U.S. will “sit on the side and help where we can” in the negotiations with Taliban militants.

Two Taliban officials told The Associated Press that the two warring sides have found common ground on which to move forward with the stalled talks.

In Kabul, at least one of the 23 mortar shells fired from two cars hit inside the Iranian Embassy compound. No one was injured, but it damaged the main building, the Iranian Embassy said in a tweet.

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At least 31 people were hurt elsewhere in the city, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

The local Islamic State affiliate issued a statement claiming the attack that targeted the so-called Green Zone in Kabul which houses foreign embassies, the presidential palace and Afghan military compounds.

In Qatar, Pompeo also met with the co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed a peace agreement with Washington in February ahead of the intra-Afghan talks.

A Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, tweeted that prisoner releases were discussed in the meeting.

Naeem said the insurgent group also repeated its demand that Taliban leaders be removed from the United Nations sanctions list.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed earlier Saturday issued a statement assailing the Afghan government for requesting the U.N. maintain sanctions on Taliban leaders.

There has been a sharp rise in violence in Afghanistan this year and a surge of attacks by the Taliban against the country’s beleaguered security forces since the start of peace talks in September.

The United States announced this week that it will accelerate its planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Washington said it would withdraw another estimated 2,500 troops before the middle of January, leaving about 2,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has held to its promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops.

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

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

Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the government’s High Council for Reconciliation, condemned Saturday’s attack on the capital, calling it a “cowardly” act. The council oversees the government’s negotiating team with the Taliban in Doha.

Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Kabul on Tuesday for the first time since he came to office, condemned the attack and warned “it is important to be vigilant against the spoilers who are working to undermine the peace efforts.”

Hours before the attack rattled Kabul, a bomb attached to a car killed one security guard and wounded three others in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, according to Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz.


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