Ayaz Gul - VOA News
ISLAMABAD - A suicide bomb attack has killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 50 others in eastern Afghanistan, a day after a deadly attack in the same area targeted government soldiers and Taliban insurgents celebrating a temporary cease-fire during the Muslim festival Eid al-Fitr.
Sunday's attack happened in central Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province, where government offices are located. Soldiers and Taliban rebels were jointly celebrating the last day of the Eid al-Fitr festival that marked the end of Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Health officials and rescue workers expected the death toll to increase.
A day earlier, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide blast that killed at least 35 people on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Officials said that Afghan security personnel, Taliban fighters and civilians were among the victims.
Nangarhar province is where Islamic State has established its strong bases and its militants routinely carry out targeted killings and suicide bombings.
Shortly before Sunday's bombing, the Taliban ordered all its fighters to strictly “remain in their trenches and areas of control and not to venture into enemy controlled areas or cities” to avoid incidents like Saturday’s deadly bombing in Jalalabad.
In a statement released to media Sunday, the insurgent group said field commanders have been asked to ban Taliban fighters from participating in ceasefire-related celebrations to deter “the enemy” from misusing the events to harm Afghans.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has formally announced its three-day ceasefire will end Sunday night and vowed to resume battlefield attacks from Monday morning against U.S.-led foreign forces. The insurgent announcement has dealt a blow to renewed hopes for long-sought Afghan peace talks.
“Mujahideen [Taliban fighters] all over the country are being asked to resume their operations against foreign invaders and their local puppets,” the statement said.
The insurgent group insisted the brief cessation of hostilities across Afghanistan has established the Taliban is a "united force” not being backed by any foreign nation and it is capable of implementing all key decisions like the Eid ceasefire.
The Taliban also clarified that its suspension of insurgent activities had nothing to do with that of the government’s ceasefire and it was meant only to enable Afghans to peacefully celebrate their Eid festivities.
On Saturday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, praised the government's and the Taliban's mutual cease-fire and unilaterally extended the period of the government’s cease-fire.
“To respect the public's wishes and to support their demands about peace, I am ordering the security and defense forces to extend the cease-fire from the fourth day of Eid. We will soon share the details of the proposed cease-fire with the nation,” Ghani said. He went on to urge the Taliban to extend its cease-fire, and he offered medical assistance to wounded insurgents.
The Afghan government and the Taliban for the first time in more than 17 years mutual observed the cease-fire that had gone into effect on Friday, the opening day of the three-day Eid festival.
The temporary cessation of hostilities was widely welcomed in and outside war-shattered Afghanistan.
The government reiterated that its weeklong cease-fire that began last Tuesday was with the Taliban and did not include U.S. counterterrorism efforts against IS, al-Qaida, and other regional and international terrorist groups.
President Ghani reiterated his offer of direct talks with the Taliban to resolve mutual differences and end the conflict. “We are ready for comprehensive negotiation, all those issues and demands that have been put-forth we are ready to discuss them at the peace talks,” Ghani said.
The U.S. State Department responded to Ghani's announcement Saturday with a statement that it stands with Ghani and his offer.
"We support President Ghani's offer to extend the cease-fire and begin peace talks," Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a release on Saturday. "Peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces. The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions," he said.
American forces and NATO’s non-combatant Resolute Support in Afghanistan welcomed an extension of the cease-fire by Ghani and his offer to begin peace talks with the Taliban.
“The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions,” said the international military mission in a statement.