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US-Taliban talks to take 'brief pause' after deadly airbase attack

Afghan security forces stand guard near the US Bagram Air Base [Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 13 December, 2019

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The United States has paused talks with the Taliban again, after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack near a US airbase in Afghanistan.
The United States announced on Thursday a pause in talks with the Taliban after an attack near a US airbase in Afghanistan.

"When I met the Talibs today, I expressed outrage about yesterday's attack on Bagram, which recklessly killed two and wounded dozens of civilians," US special representative for Afghanistan peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter.

"#Taliban must show they are willing & able to respond to Afghan desire for peace," he tweeted.

Wednesday's early morning assault, for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility, began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan province, north of the capital Kabul, according to local officials.

It came despite the resumption of talks between the US and the insurgent group just days before in Qatar, as the parties look for a path to reduce violence or even reach a cease-fire, allowing a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Negotiations began earlier this year, though US President Donald Trump unexpectedly suspended talks in September just as the parties were about to reach an agreement, citing a fatal attack in Kabul, in which an American soldier was killed.

He announced last month they would start up again, insisting on the need for a cease-fire.

Trump made a surprise visit to Bagram on 28 November to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops and meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"The Taliban wants to make a deal and we're meeting with them and we're saying it has to be a ceasefire," he told reporters, confirming the resumption of the stalled talks.

According to September's draft agreement, the Taliban would be required to commit to certain security measures, agree to talks with the Afghan government and promise a reduction of violence in exchange for US troop withdrawal.

Major attack

The Taliban attack on the key US military base in Afghanistan Wednesday was a major attack that killed two civilians and wounded more than 70 others.

After a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan province, seven more gunmen, some wearing suicide vests are believed to have then entered the building.

An Afghan interior ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said on Twitter that all the attackers inside the hospital compound were killed fighting Afghan and foreign forces.

At least two Afghan civilians, including one woman, were killed while 73 others were wounded in the explosion that damaged houses up to 300 metres away, Rahimi said.

A Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that "tens" of US and Afghan soldiers had been killed or wounded.

In a WhatsApp message Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants had detonated a truck bomb outside Bagram base, but denied Taliban fighters had taken up positions inside a hospital.

Afghan and US officials could not immediately confirm if a truck bomb had been used in the attack.

"The attack was quickly contained and repelled ... but the future medical facility was badly damaged," NATO's Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

It said there were no US or coalition casualties but Georgia's defence ministry said five of its soldiers received minor injuries in the attack.

Just as talks resume

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the latest attack "in the strongest possible terms" without saying whether it would affect talks.

"This is precisely the kind of activity that we're working to reduce," Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

"The people of Afghanistan deserve an end to these senseless acts of violence. The United States stands with the Afghan people, their security forces and their desire to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan," he said.

The US negotiator with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been leading the talks with the Taliban that could see a withdrawal of thousands of US troops.

Read more: CIA-backed 'death squads' accused of Afghanistan 'war crimes'

The State Department, in announcing the resumption of talks, said that Khalilzad would also try to find a way for a ceasefire - a key demand of the Afghan government.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported on thousands of US government documents which showed that senior American officials had insisted progress was being made in Afghanistan despite clear evidence the war had become unwinnable.

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