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KABUL CLAIMS KILLING MASTERMIND OF ATTACK ON ARMY BASE

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Afghan forces have killed the Taliban mastermind of a suicide car bomb attack that left at least 30 security personnel dead, officials said on Monday.

Hamza Waziristani was killed in an airstrike overnight in the eastern province of Ghazni where the bomber struck an Afghan military base on Sunday.

“The mastermind behind yesterday’s terrorist attack on the (Ghazni) base was killed along with seven other terrorists,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said that Waziristani was a Taliban militant from the Pakistani border region of Waziristan.

The attack was one of the deadliest in months targeting government forces in Afghanistan, where violence has surged since the start of peace talks between President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the Taliban in Qatar.

The Taliban often do not comment on deadly attacks they are accused of carrying out.

The insurgents have launched near daily attacks against Afghan forces, primarily in rural areas, since signing a deal with Washington in February that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign troops by May 2021.

Health officials in Ghazni said 30 people died in Sunday’s attack, but the defence ministry - which is known to downplay tolls in attacks against its forces - said 10 were killed.

Violence has also surged in Kabul in recent weeks, with more than 50 people killed in two assaults on educational centres and a rocket attack.

The three Kabul attacks were claimed by the militant Islamic State group, but Afghan officials blamed the Taliban - who denied any involvement.

Nato mulls US drawdown

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the military alliance is grappling with a dilemma over its future in Afghanistan, as the United States starts pulling troops out while attacks by the Taliban and extremist groups mount.

More than 17 years after taking the lead on international security efforts in Afghanistan, Nato now has around 11,000 troops from dozens of nations there helping to train and advise the national security forces. Most of the personnel are from Europe and other Nato partner countries.

But the alliance relies heavily on the United States armed forces for air support, transport and logistics. European allies would struggle even to leave the country without US help, and President Donald Trumps decision to pull almost half the US troops out by mid-January leaves Nato in a bind.

We face a difficult dilemma. Whether to leave, and risk that Afghanistan becomes once again a safe haven for international terrorists. Or stay, and risk a longer mission, with renewed violence, Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of a videoconference between Nato foreign ministers.

Under a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban without the involvement of other Nato allies or the Afghan government - all foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1 if security conditions on the ground permit.

Whatever path we choose, it is important that we do so together, in a coordinated and deliberate way, Stoltenberg said, on the eve of a videoconference between Nato foreign ministers where the organizations most ambitious operation ever will be high on the agenda.