The United States has strongly condemned Monday’s assassination of a team of five Afghan government employees, including two prosecutors, and demanded that authorities investigate the attack.
The slain men were said to be part of a team working to facilitate the release of Taliban prisoners from government custody as part of a landmark U.S. agreement with the Islamist insurgent group aimed at ending nearly two decades of Afghan war.
“This attack, carried out by enemies of peace, took the lives of five civilians. We offer our condolences,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the American special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, said in a series of tweets. “We call for a full investigation to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Afghan officials said the victims were traveling to the Bagram prison, north of the capital, Kabul, when gunmen sprayed their car with bullets during an ambush. The prison facility hosts a large number of insurgent prisoners.
While the Taliban has denied its involvement in Monday’s attack, the government has pointed the finger at the insurgents.
The attack is the latest in a series of high-profile assassinations in and round Kabul in recent weeks that remain unclaimed. They include killings earlier this month of two highly respected Afghan clerics and the May 12 raid on a maternity ward in the city, run by Doctors Without Borders.
The hospital attack killed 25 people, including 16 women, five of them just minutes or hours away from giving birth.
Khalilzad negotiated and signed the pact with the Taliban in February, which requires Kabul to free 5,000 insurgent prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security personnel being held by the Taliban before peace talks between Afghan parties to the war could begin.
The Kabul government says it has so far released 3,600 insurgent prisoners while the Taliban says it has freed around 600 detainees.
Khalilzad suggested that Monday’s attack could be the work of domestic and foreign “spoilers" trying to disrupt and delay Afghan peace efforts. He encouraged Afghan rivals to remain committed to the peace process.
“Both sides should not be deterred and push forward to take the steps necessary to reach intra-Afghan negotiations, where a comprehensive ceasefire & a political settlement can be negotiated as quickly as possible,” Khalilzad tweeted.
Plot To Kill Khalilzad
The Afghan-American envoy has repeatedly warned in his previous statements that Islamic State terrorists in Afghanistan could attempt to subvert the U.S.-Taliban deal.
Khalilzad’s own security has lately come under scrutiny, however.
Last week, U.S. officials confirmed they were investigating Taliban claims that Islamic State was plotting to assassinate Khalilzad with the help of former and current officers within the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
The Taliban shared with media outlets a video of two blindfolded men in their custody earlier this month, saying they were recruited by Islamic State for the would-be suicide mission aimed at killing Khalilzad.
The two alleged IS militants claimed in their purported video confession that the plot to eliminate the American envoy was facilitated by Rahmatullah Nabil, a former NDS chief, with a mission to sabotage the Afghan peace process. They also owned other high-profile killings in Kabul, a prominent analyst who frequently and publicly spoke for peace with the Taliban.
Nabil, a presidential candidate in last year’s election in Afghanistan, has vehemently denied the charges and denounced the video as fake.