KABUL, Afghanistan – Gunmen shot and killed a senior police special forces commander who was known as a dogged anti-Taliban warrior barely 24 hours before President Ashraf Ghani's unilateral cease-fire was to end at midnight Friday, the Defense Ministry said.
Azizullah Karwan was gunned down as he picnicked with his family in the Afghan capital Kabul, said ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish.
Karwan is among dozens of Afghan Security Forces personnel killed in brazen assaults around the country since the Taliban ended their three-day truce two weeks ago, even as Ghani extended the government's cease-fire.
The combatants had independently observed a cease-fire to celebrate the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr, which marked the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan when devotees fast from sunrise to sunset. It was the first truce in Afghanistan's brutal 17-year war and both Taliban and government officials embraced the reprieve from fighting with joint celebrations. In cities throughout the country, Taliban and Afghan government security personnel were seen laughing together and in some cases taking selfies as they embraced. Taliban on motorcycles roared through the cities, visiting family and friends.
Enthused by the response, Ghani announced a unilateral cease-fire extension which expires at midnight Friday. The Taliban, however, flatly refused and some among the Taliban leadership were angered by the scenes of insurgents and government officials together.
In the days following Eid celebrations, an audiotape prepared by the son of the late Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, circulated among insurgents. On the tape, heard by The Associated Press, Yaqoub, Mullah Omar's son, used harsh language as he chastised Taliban fighters for their cavorting with the enemy.
Since the Taliban ended their cease-fire, attacks against Afghan security forces have been relentless and particularly deadly. On Thursday, 16 security forces were killed in northern Takhar province. Earlier in the week, a Taliban suicide bomber killed eight police and wounded another four in eastern Kunar province. Before that, 16 militia loyal to the government were killed in northern Badghis province and another 10 in northern Kunduz province.
The frequency and ferocity of the attacks seemed intended to dispel hopes that the Eid celebrations were a harbinger of peace.
Ghani, meanwhile, has been pressing the Taliban to come to the negotiation table to end the protracted war. The Taliban have repeated their demand for direct talks with the United States, something the U.S. administration has indicated it might be willing to consider, although not without the Afghan government at the same table.
Karwan, the special forces commander killed Thursday, was stationed in Afghanistan's restive eastern province of Paktika, where he worked closely with U.S. special forces, said Mohammad Nader Katawazi, a member of parliament from the province. He said Karwan's death is a blow to the battle against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, noting he had cleared hundreds of Taliban from the area.
In a telephone interview, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the militant group had carried out the attack. Mujahid also told The AP the Taliban had no plans for any cease-fire beyond the earlier Eid truce.
Mohammad Zekria Sawda, a member of parliament from northern Badakhshan province, said the Taliban — who already control dozens of districts in the country — benefited from the cease-fire.
"It had no benefit for the people," he said, accusing Ghani of offering the truce as a ploy to boost his image ahead of presidential elections next year.
Jawed Kohistani, an analyst in the Afghan capital, said Ghani miscalculated with the unilateral cease-fire, which he said has played into Taliban hands, improving their morale as they struck security forces with impunity.