Afghan president delays India trip by few hours, holds emergency meeting with NATO commander

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan president delayed his official trip to India by a few hours Monday to hold an emergency meeting with the NATO commander in Afghanistan and top Afghan security officials.

Ashraf Ghani was scheduled to leave for India early in the afternoon, said a palace official, but instead went into an emergency session with U.S. Gen. John Campbell. No further details were immediately available and the official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting.

The Taliban have stepped up their attacks against Afghan security forces across the country and last week launched their annual spring offensive, which coincides with the melting of snow in the mountains and the start of warmer weather. The Taliban escalate their attacks every year when the warm weather allows them to more easily traverse the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

This fighting season is the first year that Afghan forces face the insurgents alone on the battlefield, following the withdrawal of foreign combat troops at the end of December.

Over the past three days, the northern Kunduz province has seen several Taliban attacks. The province's Gov. Omer Safi said reinforcements have arrived and that plans are underway for an operation in three different parts of Kunduz.

"There are casualties as a result of three days battles on both sides, but I can't provide precise figures as the fighting is still going on," Safi said.

But after more than a decade of war, the Taliban appear no closer to their goal of overthrowing the Kabul government, something that has opened up an opportunity for what is perceived to be an affiliate of the Islamic State group, which already controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, to establish a small presence in Afghanistan. The development has alarmed many Afghans.

Before his meeting with Ghani, Campbell, the NATO commander, warned of the "potential threat for Afghanistan" from Islamic State extremists and stressed that this is a regional and not just an Afghan problem.

"We know that their recruiting is going on, we know that there is a little bit of money passing back and forth, but what we haven't seen is them really operationalized," Campbell said. He added that IS will likely attempt to become fully operational over the summer but that the international forces are "working with our Afghan partners make sure that they can't do that."

Meanwhile, at least five civilians were killed when a bomb detonated inside a house in the southern Zabul province, Atta Jan, head of the Zabul provincial council said. Two children and a woman were among those killed in the explosion on Sunday night in the Shinkay district, he said.

And in the eastern Khost province, three policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded targeting their vehicle, said Mubariz Mohammad Zadran, spokesman for the provincial governor.

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