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Islamic State Bombs Holiday Gathering Of Taliban, Afghan Troops

REUTERS/Parwiz

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for a car bomb that detonated Saturday at a gathering of Taliban fighters and Afghan troops, killing dozens of people and shattering the peace of a holiday ceasefire.

The bombing occurred in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where Taliban and Afghan government forces were celebrating the Eid holiday marking the end of the Ramadan fasting season. Both sides are observing an unprecedented, countrywide pause in hostilities timed to coincide with the holiday celebrations. (RELATED: Taliban, Afghan Government Forces Celebrate Together As Holiday Ceasefire Holds)

In a statement posted to its Amaq news agency, the Islamic State said it had targeted “a gathering of Afghan forces,” but did not provide further details. The Taliban had already denied responsibility for the attack in a statement released earlier Saturday.

Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and civilian residents were among those killed in the blast, provincial government spokesperson Attaullah Khogyani said, according to Reuters. At least 26 people were killed and another 16 were wounded, authorities said.

The Taliban announced on June 9 an unprecedented three-day ceasefire to mark the Eid holiday, which began Friday. The temporary truce does not include American or other foreign forces operating in Afghanistan.

Kabul then declared a longer ceasefire that lasts through Wednesday. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has praised the pause in hostilities as a way to convince the Taliban come to the negotiating table instead of returning to the battlefield after the Eid holiday.

The temporary truce has produced the unusual sight of the Taliban openly celebrating with Afghan security forces and civilians across the country. In the capital, Taliban militants sporting traditional headgear paired with sunglasses caused traffic jams when motorists stopped to take selfies with them. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, residents offered fruit and ice cream to Taliban fighters, while children played games with the militants, according to local reports.

Ghani said in an address Saturday that he would extend the ceasefire with the Taliban, but did not offer a specific timeframe. He also appealed to the Taliban to continue their own ceasefire, which is set to end on Sunday.

Although the U.S.-led NATO coalition did not propose the Eid ceasefire, Washington said Saturday that it fully backed Ghani’s effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

“Agreeing to begin peace talks is an expression of determination to create a unified Afghanistan in which all its citizens can live in peace and dignity,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States stands ready to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and all the people of Afghanistan to reach a peace agreement and political settlement that brings a permanent end to this war.”

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