After Each Attack He Carried the Wounded. Then He Became a Victim.


But many Afghan and American officials say there is often an overlap between the facilitating networks used in urban attacks claimed by the Islamic State in recent years and those used by the extreme elements of the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani Network, which had a long history of deadly urban attacks even before the rise of the Islamic State.

In the small foothold the Islamic State maintains in eastern Afghanistan, it carries out particularly barbaric acts of violence. In the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar Province, officials said three brothers were beheaded by the group late on Sunday. Their father, a medical doctor, was killed by the Islamic State last year.

As mass-casualty attacks have increased in Kabul, the country’s capital, Kabul Province has become the deadliest one for civilians, surpassing Taliban-dominated southern areas where local residents have long borne the brunt of the war, now in its 17th year. Last year, nearly 500 civilians were killed in attacks in the city and 1,350 were wounded, according to the United Nations.

While the violence has turned life in Kabul into a game of chance, more recently the odds have been worse for Shiites like Mr. Allahdad.

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“He was just a poor man’s son trying to earn bread for his children,” said Mr. Allahdad’s father, second from right.

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Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

His home is on a busy road in a western Kabul neighborhood. Almost every street pole is adorned with a photograph of an attack victim.

“He was just a poor man’s son trying to earn bread for his children,” said his elderly father, Hussain Ali Allahdad, wiping his tears with a white kerchief.

As visitors arrived on Monday morning to pay their respects, someone would recite another verse of the Quran before hands were raised in prayer. The father would lean back against the wall and close his eyes.

Many visitors apologized for having shown up so late, busy with other funerals and burials. One had a cousin killed in the bombing, another had a brother-in-law, a third had a neighbor.

The visitors tried to console the father by emphasizing that in the eyes of the Shiite community, his son was a martyr who had sacrificed his life for a noble cause.

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Mr. Allahdad’s wrestling memorabilia. He amassed many accolades over his career.

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Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

“Not everyone gets the rank of martyr,” said one visitor who walked with a limp.

“Yes, he was lucky to become a martyr,” said another. “That he has left us burning here — that’s a separate issue.”

In western Kabul where many Shiites live, Mr. Allahdad had quite a presence — not only for his reputation as a wrestler, but also as the defender of an increasingly vulnerable community. Some Shiite youths have started carrying weapons at religious gatherings, no longer trusting the authorities to protect them. They looked to Mr. Allahdad as a mobilizer and a leader.

“He was my student for 20 years — he started wrestling when he was 13,” said Sher Jan Ahmadi, deputy head of the country’s wrestling federation.

Mr. Allahdad had amassed many accolades in his wrestling career, the medals hanging at his home and office. He won domestic tournaments as a teenager, and in his youth he dominated his weight class of 214 pounds. In one of the last international tournaments he took part in, held in Pakistan, he won a silver medal.

When he retired from competing after having torn a leg muscle four years ago, he could not break with the sport entirely. He started coaching a local wrestling club, with about 150 students arriving for daily training at 6 a.m. On his Facebook page, he shared a Russian meme: a babushka rushing to a wrestling mat to smack an opponent who was pinning her son down.

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A poster of Mr. Allahdad on his travel agency storefront in the west of Kabul where he had quite a presence.

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Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

Mr. Allahdad also had an entrepreneurial ambition. He began with a small crockery business, then expanded to a travel agency that specialized in pilgrimages to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq. He awarded free trips to his best wrestling students.

As attacks escalated against Shiite places of worship in Afghanistan, the former wrestler found a more urgent use for his strength. He became a volunteer emergency responder, often among the first at the scene.

When suicide bombers armed with rifles and grenades stormed the largest Shiite shrine in Kabul two years ago, a photographer captured an image of Mr. Allahdad carrying a wounded girl. His embroidered clothes were soaked with blood, his eyes red from tears and smoke.

When another mosque was attacked last June, cellphone video showed Mr. Allahdad rushing a bloodied middle-aged man on his shoulder to the back of a police truck. Covered in blood again, he sat on the floor and said he might have dislocated his hip. Someone bent down to help him out.

“Good?” the person asked.

“Yes, good,” said Mr. Allahdad as he got back on his feet and rushed back into the smoke coming from the mosque.

Late on Sunday evening, hundreds of mourners gathered at the walled family cemetery, where just two weeks earlier Mr. Allahdad and two dozen relatives had planted trees to welcome spring. His body was removed from an ambulance, and after a brief prayer, lowered into his grave.

Just days before he was killed, Mr. Allahdad had expressed to an older brother, Ghulam Sakhi, how tired he had been: “For three months, or six months, I just want to go somewhere where I don’t hear anything.”

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Attacks in Afghanistan Leave Dozens Dead and 2 Schools Burned


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The burned-out girls’ high school in Logar Province, Afghanistan, that was attacked on April 11. The school is in the home district of President Ashraf Ghani, about 35 miles from Kabul.

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Afghanistan Ministry of Education

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — Four attacks across Afghanistan on Saturday night and Sunday killed at least 26 government security officers, while two schools were also set ablaze, according to Afghan officials.

The four attacks struck government outposts in northern and eastern Afghanistan; at least three appeared coordinated. They occurred late at night or early in the morning, with the attackers using long-range sniper rifles and night-vision equipment, according to Afghan officials, who tallied at least 10 wounded in all, along with those killed.

In separate assaults, a girls’ high school in Logar Province, near the capital, Kabul, was burned on April 11, and masked attackers struck a school in the village of Momandara, in Nangarhar Province, on Saturday night, setting archives and labs ablaze, according to education officials.

No one was reported hurt in those two attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but government officials blamed Taliban insurgents for the attacks on the government outposts. In recent years, mainstream Taliban forces have normally refrained from attacking schools.

In the Sancharak District, in the northern Sar-i-Pul Province, which has teetered between government and Taliban control over the past year, the governor, Naqibullah Daqiq, said that two government checkpoints in the west had been attacked by Taliban fighters using night-vision equipment and sniper rifles, with one guard killed at first.

When local pro-government militiamen tried to counter the assault, they fell into a Taliban ambush, and 10 others were killed, Mr. Daqiq said.

Nematullah Tofan, the police chief of the district of Dawlat Abad, in another northern province, Faryab, said that two government checkpoints in the village of Khairabad had fallen to Taliban fighters after their snipers killed four government defenders, shooting each of them in the head.

Attacks by insurgents using sophisticated night-vision technology have risen in the past year, especially against police and militia units that do not have such equipment. Afghan officials have asked for the gear to be issued to their police officers, but American officials have been reluctant to do so for fear that it would fall into Taliban hands.

The third attack was in Ghazni Province, in southeastern Afghanistan, where two Afghan Local Police checkpoints in the district of Jaghatu were attacked at 2 a.m. Sunday, killing eight officers and wounding four others, according to Hamidullah Nawruz, a member of the Ghazni provincial council.

Afghan Local Police officers are militiamen defending their own communities; they are generally less trained and not as well equipped as the national police.

A fourth attack took place on Sunday afternoon, when three guards outside Nangarhar University in the eastern city of Jalalabad took a break for worship. Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on them while they were praying, killing two immediately, according to a news release from the provincial governor’s office. The third guard fled but was chased by the gunmen and killed as well, according to a witness who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The girls’ high school in Logar Province, in a village in Mohammad Agha District, was attacked on April 11 by gunmen who beat up the night watchmen and locked them in a room, then set the school afire, according to Kabir Haqmal, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education. It was unclear why the attack had not been previously disclosed.

The school has 981 female students and 21 teachers, Mr. Haqmal said. It is in the home district of President Ashraf Ghani, 35 miles from Kabul.

In Nangarhar Province, the attack in Momandara was the third time a school in that district had been targeted in the past month, according to Mohammad Asif Shinwari, a spokesman for the provincial education ministry.

Attacks on schools by Taliban insurgents were common 10 years ago but proved so unpopular with communities that the insurgents announced that they would not be continued, even claiming to support girls’ education, although few such schools operate in areas dominated by the militants.

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Taliban’s Rare Silence on Talks Charges Up a New Peace Conference


The offer on the table, made by President Ashraf Ghani, included recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political party, passports for their officials, an office in Kabul or somewhere else they preferred, the release of Taliban prisoners and efforts to remove their leaders from international sanctions lists.

Just because the Taliban may be discussing the offer does not mean they’re going to take it, of course. Most of the Taliban figures reached for comment by The New York Times preferred to remain quiet, referring the queries to representatives in Qatar. Members at the office in Qatar, in return, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some Taliban figures who did speak made sure to express their old mistrust of any peace offer by the Western-backed Afghan government.

Mullah Hamidee, a Taliban military commander in the south, said: “Our stance on peace talk is totally dependent on foreign troops’ abandoning our country. Anytime they set the date for leaving, we will be willing to talk on peace.”

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A wounded man was carried into a hospital after a bombing on Friday outside a stadium in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. Frustration over the violence prompted a sit-in by residents this week.

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Noor Mohammad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

One senior Taliban commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was talking to the news media without the leadership’s permission, insisted that the insurgents were not ready to negotiate directly with the Afghan government. The discussions underway, he said, are over what kind of negotiations might be acceptable, “but the mood of leadership is likely to not initiate peace talks with the Afghan government.”

While that is far from a rousing endorsement, it is a long way from the Taliban’s outright and fulsome dismissal of past peace initiatives, always insisting that they would talk only to the “occupiers,” meaning the American military, as long as they remained on Afghan soil.

Recently, several former officials involved in previous efforts to negotiate with the Taliban said the United States would need to play larger role as facilitator if the insurgents were to take any prospects of negotiations seriously.

One senior diplomat in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, said the government’s offer had been a game changer.

“The Taliban feel a bit confused, they feel pressured,” he said. “At the Kabul conference, everybody said they should talk to the Afghan government; they are the only ones insisting they should talk to the occupiers.”

As the government of Uzbekistan convened the conference here, pressure on the Taliban came from another, unexpected quarter: the group’s own heartland.

In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, a major Taliban stronghold, a suicide bombing at a wrestling match Friday killed 14 people. This week hundreds of Helmand residents held a sit-in, vowing to carry out a “long march” to the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala to demand peace talks. The protesters included women, rarely seen outside their homes in that conservative corner of Afghanistan.

“The only aim of the sit-in is to stop fighting from both sides,” said one of the organizers, Iqbal Khaibar. “The Taliban should not send bombers and the government should not drop bombs on them.”

He said their march would take place without security: “This is our country and we can go anywhere in it.”

Akram Khpalwak, the head of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council secretariat, was among the optimists. “The narrative needed to change,” he said. “There was a perception that, over the years, the Taliban wanted peace but the government side did not have a clear plan for it, and was not offering a comprehensive plan. We wanted to change that perception, and make an offer that leaves few questions.”

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Mr. Ghani, right, and Defense Secretary James Mattis in Kabul last April.

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Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst

Mr. Ghani’s offer to the Taliban came after consultations among all elements of Afghan society, Mr. Khpalwak said, including the most ardent anti-Taliban factions and the most sympathetic.

So optimistic is Mr. Ghani’s government that when the American secretary of defense, James N. Mattis, visited Kabul recently, the two men spent most of their time discussing the technical measures that would be needed to implement the government’s offers and get peace talks underway, according to Afghan officials briefed on Mr. Mattis’s visit.

The Taliban are no longer the united force they were under their former leader, Mullah Omar, but they are also reeling from heavy battlefield losses — as is the government side. While the insurgents have continued to gain territory, no clear victory is in sight for either side.

In addition, the Pakistanis have come under heavy pressure from the United States over the issue of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

The Afghan government hoped that the Tashkent conference would help bring the Russians on board, as well, particularly with the involvement of its Central Asian allies, Uzbekistan and its neighbors. The Uzbek president, Shavkat Myrziyoyev, offered to host eventual peace talks.

But the conference convened in the midst of widespread expulsions of Russian diplomats by Western countries, and Russians were reported to be unhappy with what they see as sidelining Moscow from the peace process.

The American military has accused Russia of working behind the scenes with the Taliban. In a recent interview with the BBC, the American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson, said the Russian “activity really picked up in the last 18 to 24 months.” He said, “Prior to that we had not seen this kind of destabilizing activity by Russia here.”

That led to a furious response from the Russian Embassy in Kabul. “Those who are really responsible for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan are trying to put the burden of guilt for their failures on Russia and damage the Russian-Afghan relations,” the embassy said in a statement.

Despite such setbacks, Mr. Ghani’s recent offer was the most concrete sign of progress in at least the past three years.

The high point came in 2015, when the two sides actually met in person near Islamabad, Pakistan, for exploratory talks. But the next session was scuttled when it turned out that the Afghans were, in effect, negotiating with a dead man: The Taliban’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died more than two years earlier, and the talks fell apart amid those revelations.

But even if the Taliban are willing to join the peace process, said the senior diplomat, a long process of confidence building and pre-talks lies ahead before any actual, face-to-face peace negotiations. More terrorist bombings in Kabul and other Afghan cities would put the Afghan government in a difficult position, he said.

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