The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan warned that Islamic extremist groups are planning attacks against a “variety of targets” but are taking particular aim at women.
The warning didn’t specify which organizations were plotting the attacks. But it comes as the Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are meeting together for the first time to try to find a peaceful end to decades of war.
The “Taliban don’t have any plans to carry out any such attacks,” the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told The Associated Press on Friday.
Peace negotiations underway in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, are in the initial stages, with participants still hammering out what items on the agenda will be negotiated and when.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said at the start of negotiations last weekend that spoilers existed on both sides. He said that some among Afghanistan’s leaders would be content to continue with the status quo rather than find a peaceful end to the war that might involve power sharing.
According to the embassy warning issued late Thursday, “extremist organizations continue to plan attacks against a variety of targets in Afghanistan, including a heightened risk of attacks targeting female government and civilian workers, including teachers, human rights activists, office workers, and government employees.”
The Taliban have been harshly criticized for their treatment of women and girls during their five-year rule, when they denied girls access to school and women the right to work outside the home.
Taliban rule ended in 2001 when a U.S.-led coalition ousted the regime for its part in sheltering al-Qaida, which was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
One of the government-appointed peace negotiators, Fawzia Koofi, an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, was shot last month in Afghanistan but escaped serious injury and attended the opening of negotiations last weekend. The Taliban quickly denied responsibility.
The U.S. has said that one of the most dangerous extremist groups operating in Afghanistan is the Islamic State group’s affiliate, headquartered in the country’s east and held responsible for some of the most recent attacks.
The IS affiliate has declared war on minority Shiite Muslims and has claimed credit for horrific attacks targeting them.
The United Nations as well as Afghanistan’s international allies have stressed the need for any peace deal to protect the rights of women and minorities.
Negotiations are expected to be difficult and protracted and will also include constitutional changes, disarming the tens of thousands of the Taliban as well as militias loyal to warlords, some of whom are allied with the government.