British and American citizens warned of threat to Kabul hotels

Britain and the United States warned their citizens on Monday to avoid hotels in the Afghanistan capital Kabul, days after dozens of people were killed at a mosque in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Taliban, which seized power in August and declared an Islamic emirate, are seeking international recognition and assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster and ease Afghanistan’s economic crisis.

But, as the hardline Islamist group transitions from a rebel army to a governing power, they are struggling to contain the threat from the Afghanistan chapter of IS.

"US citizens who are at or near the Serena Hotel should leave immediately," the US State Department said, referring to "security threats" in the area.

In an update to its advice not to travel to Afghanistan, the UK Foreign Office said: "In light of the increased risks, you are advised not to stay in hotels, particularly in Kabul (such as the Serena Hotel).

"The security situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile. There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack.
The potential for terrorist attacks, particularly around the airport, remains very high."

Since the Taliban takeover, many foreigners have left Afghanistan, but some journalists and aid workers remain in the capital.

The Serena is the best-known luxury hotel in Kabul, popular with foreign visitors before the city fell to the Taliban eight weeks ago.

It has twice been the target of extremist attacks.

It comes after the Islamic State group claimed a devastating bomb attack in the northern city of Kunduz on Friday that ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers – the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country in August.

In recent years, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries – massacring civilians at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.

The terror threat has partly overshadowed Taliban efforts to improve their international standing.

Over the weekend, senior Taliban and US delegations held their first face-to-face talks in the Qatar capital Doha since the US withdrawal.

The talks "focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners", according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

"Human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society" were also raised, Mr Price said.

According to the State Department, the discussions were "candid and professional" and US officials reiterated that "the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words".

The Taliban said the United States had agreed to send aid to Afghanistan, though the US said the issue had only been discussed, and that any assistance would go to Afghanistan’s people and not the Taliban government.

"US representatives stated that they will give humanitarian assistance to Afghans and will provide facilities for other humanitarian organisations to deliver aid," the Taliban’s foreign ministry said, warning that the aid should not be linked to political issues.

Taliban leaders said they were seeking formal diplomatic relations and appealed to Britain for help releasing billions of dollars in frozen overseas Afghan government assets in their first meeting with senior UK officials since the fall of Kabul. The request came at a meeting in the Afghan capital between senior British diplomats and top Taliban officials on October 5, the first face-to-face talks since the end of the evacuation of UK diplomatic and military personnel from Kabul in August.

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