BY MICHAEL BOWMAN – The United States and NATO-led international forces have condemned the assassination of a top Afghan peace negotiator. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, but a high-ranking U.S. senator says the killing of Afghan High Peace Council member Arsala Rahmani is further evidence of Taliban intentions as American force levels are reduced.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says the Rahmani assassination is the latest incident in a pattern of violence gripping Afghanistan. “What this does is demonstrate to many of us that the Taliban are just waiting to come back,” she said.
Feinstein recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, and made headlines when she challenged the Obama administration’s assertion that a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan had halted Taliban momentum in the country. Speaking on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday, the senator described what she sees as the Taliban’s strategy.
“Militarily, I think, the Taliban are not going to beat us. But what the Taliban has done is insinuate itself in a shadowy presence, with shadow governors. They control over a third of the land in which people live. They have expanded into the north and the northeast,” she said.
Feinstein said she is encouraged by multinational efforts to train Afghan forces that will increasingly assume responsibility for security as U.S. forces draw down. But she said neighboring Pakistan has a critical role to play in keeping the Taliban at bay. “They have a safe harbor in Pakistan. And the Pakistanis are doing nothing to abate that safe harbor. It is a big problem. And I think the key to Afghanistan is action by Pakistan,” she said.
Pakistan condemned the Rahmani assassination and restated its commitment to fighting terrorism. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul condemned the attack, and said the United States will continue to stand alongside Afghanistan and its people. A statement by NATO-led international forces described the assassination as an effort to intimidate and undermine Afghanistan’s peace process.