Afghan Taliban Chief Hails Troop Exit as Kabul Bombing Death Toll Soars  

The leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency Sunday praised the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from the country, as officials in Kabul raised the death toll to more than 60 from the previous day’s multiple blasts outside a girls’ school in the capital. 
“We consider the withdrawal of forces by America and other foreign countries a good step and strongly urge that all parts of the Doha agreement be implemented,” said Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.  FILE – In this undated photo taken at an unknown location, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, poses for a portrait.The Taliban chief was referring to the February 2020 landmark peace-building pact the United States negotiated with the insurgents in Qatar’s capital, Doha, to pull all U.S. and coalition troops from the country to close America’s longest war, now in its 20th year. 
“Unfortunately, the American side has so far violated the signed agreement repeatedly and caused enormous human and material loss to civilians,” Akhundzada alleged in a statement he issued in connection with the annual Muslim festival of Eid starting this week. 
The foreign military drawdown was supposed to be concluded by May 1 in line with the deal, but U.S. President Joe Biden missed the deadline, citing logistical reasons and announcing last month that all U.S. troops would be out by September 11. That would be the 20th anniversary of the terrorist strikes against the U.S.  
The Taliban denounced the delay and threatened to break their cease-fire with international forces that has been in place since the signing of the deal. U.S. commanders say the troop drawdown has been under way smoothly. Washington also alleges the insurgent group has not lived up to its commitment to ease violence and engage in a “genuine peace process” with Afghan rivals.  
The Taliban have intensified battlefield attacks since the foreign troop withdrawal started, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan government forces and capturing new territory.  
The Afghan army chief said on Saturday his forces had also “killed and injured 1,000″ Taliban fighters in the past week.  
Afghan adversaries often issue inflated casualty tolls for the other side, which are impossible to verify from independent sources.  
U.S. officials have blamed the Taliban for the latest rise in violence and called on all warring parties to reduce hostilities and resume stalled peace talks, known as intra-Afghan negotiations. 
The peace process, which stemmed from the U.S.-Taliban deal, started in Doha last September, has mostly been deadlocked, with both Afghan rivals accusing the other of delaying and trying to subvert the dialogue.  
“We prioritize negotiations and understanding… However, the Kabul administration has repeatedly tried to sabotage the ongoing political process through various means and continues to engage in such activity,” Akhundzada said Sunday. 
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected the accusations while responding to the statement by the Taliban chief. 
“If the Taliban are sincere in what they say, then they must stop killing Afghan civilians and return to the negotiation table to discuss peace,” Mohammad Ameri told VOA.   A young man try to identify dead bodies at a hospital after a bomb explosion near a school west of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 8, 2021.Meanwhile, officials and victims’ families told media that the death toll had risen to at least 63 from Saturday’s multiple blasts outside a girls’ school in Kabul’s western Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, mostly populated by ethnic Hazara Shi’ite Muslims. 
More than 150 people had sustained injuries and doctors were said to be struggling to save the lives of some of those critically wounded. Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
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The victims were mostly schoolgirls leaving for home after finishing classes. 
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said attackers detonated a car bomb and two improvised explosive devices during the evening rush hour.  
No one has taken responsibility for the carnage in Dasht-e-Barchi, which has previously experienced such incidents. Past attacks were claimed by Islamic State. 
Afghan officials accused the Taliban of plotting the attack on the girls’ school. It was one of the deadliest in Kabul in recent months. The insurgent group denied involvement, saying it condemns any violence against Afghan civilians.   
In a video message released Sunday, Ghani against pointed a finger at the Taliban, saying the insurgents “should know that they will not achieve their evil goals through war.” He said the Taliban “will be crushed” by Afghan security forces.   
The president declared Tuesday as a national day of mourning for the victims of the Kabul attack and other recent bombings against civilians.  

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