ISLAMABAD - Two separate weekend Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan have deepened concerns over Islamist militants making deeper inroads in the region, as the U.S.-led Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, according to senior Western officials.
In the latest attack on Sunday, a bomb planted by the Taliban ripped through a truck carrying paramilitary soldiers from a Pakistan army compound in the violence stricken north-western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province bordering Afghanistan. At least 20 soldiers were killed and another 30 were injured.
That attack in the Pakistani city of Bannu targeted troops who were about to travel to the north Waziristan region along the Afghan border – a territory which has been targeted in several U.S. attacks against suspected Taliban sanctuaries, using pilot-less drones.
Sunday’s attack followed Friday’s Taliban attack on a popular restaurant in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, which killed 21 people. The casualties included three Americans who were among 13 foreign nationals who were killed.
The two attacks have come as security conditions in parts of Afghanistan appear to be deteriorating, more than a decade after a U.S.-led invasion forced out the Taliban from ruling that country. Many analysts warn the U.S. may be leaving Afghanistan too vulnerable, as it remains under the threat of the Taliban making considerable new advances.
“Today, I am afraid conditions on the ground are worsening every day” said one senior diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition that he will not be named. He said, for the U.S., the biggest emerging risk was to ensure a “fairly orderly drawdown” of the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan “without too much bloodshed.” His assessment echoed concerns from other western officials who in recent interviews, who have told CBS News that the Taliban may be positioning to take control of parts of Afghanistan as the U.S. prepares to leave.
A senior Pakistani security official who spoke to CBS News also on condition of anonymity said; “The two attacks, especially the one in Kabul suggest that the Taliban are becoming bolder and their determination to fight back is growing.”
Following Sunday’s attack, Pakistani officials warned that their country’s ability to negotiate with the Taliban appeared to be shrinking rapidly as the level of bloodshed increases. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister who was elected in parliamentary elections in May 2013, has repeatedly sought to begin fresh peace talks with the Taliban in order to end the conflict, but the militants have shown little interest to join such talks.
“If the number of attacks and the number of casualties keep on growing, then I think there is little point for the government to continue seeking peace talks,” concluded the Pakistani security official cited earlier.