Nato-led Resolute Support Mission troops and Afghanistan officials search the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 5 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Nato-led Resolute Support Mission troops and Afghanistan officials search the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 5 2019. Picture: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Kabul — A Taliban suicide blast in the centre of Kabul killed at least 10 civilians and two Nato soldiers on Thursday, destroying cars and shops in an area near the headquarters of Afghanistan’s international military force and the US embassy.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack even as the insurgents and US officials have been negotiating a deal on a US troop withdrawal in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

“At least 10 civilians have been killed and 42 injured were taken to hospitals,” said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the interior ministry. The Nato-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement a Romanian and a US member of the force were among those killed. It did not provide any more details.

A senior Afghan interior ministry official said the two soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack and their vehicle was the main target.

The death of the US service member brings the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan in 2019 to 16, including three in August. Several cars and small shops were torn apart by the blast at a checkpoint on a road near the Nato  office and US embassy. Police cordoned off the area.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber blew himself up as many people were standing nearby or crossing the road.

There has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan even though both the Taliban and US officials have reported progress in negotiations aimed at securing a deal on US withdrawal.

President Ashraf Ghani accepted the resignation of the head of Afghanistan’s powerful security agency NDS on Thursday over a separate incident overnight in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The NDS had said it killed four men suspected of ties to Islamic State, but some local officials said four brothers with no ties to militants had been killed.

Rahimi, the interior ministry spokesman, said government forces killed a senior Taliban commander, more than 20 fighters and the man the hardline insurgent group planned to impose as regional governor, in another clash on Thursday in central Maidan Wardak province.

And in the eastern province of Loghar, Taliban fighters said they detonated a car bomb near a security meeting. Government officials said four civilians were killed.

On Monday, a Taliban suicide truck bomber attacked a compound used by international organisations in Kabul, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 100. A Romanian was among those killed and one was seriously wounded in the attack on the compound, known as the Green Village.

Taliban gains ground

The Taliban now controls more territory than it has since 2001, when the US launched a military operation against the group for allegedly harbouring al-Qaeda militants linked to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

The US negotiator for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said this week the two sides had drawn up a draft framework agreement under which US troops would leave five military bases within 135 days of the signing of the pact.

The US general overseeing American forces in the region, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, declined to comment on the negotiations with the Taliban. But he saw a continuing need for military pressure on al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants in the region going forward, regardless of the outcome of the talks.

“We can explore what that’s going to look like. It could be a broad variety of things. But I don’t think you can leave it uncontested,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told reporters during a trip to Jordan.

There are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Despite ending their combat role in 2014, an estimated 20,000 US and Nato troops remain in the country to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

Khalilzad is expected to meet Afghan and Nato officials to explain the draft agreement, which must still be approved by President Donald Trump before it can be signed.

Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born US diplomat, has shared details of the draft with Ghani, and sought his opinion before firming up an agreement that could bring an end to America’s longest war.

But Ghani’s government is seeking clarification from the US on the draft agreement.

“The world must break its silence,” Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter, referring to what some people in Afghanistan see as a recent US reluctance to criticise the Taliban, through fear of derailing the talks.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, condemned the attack: “It is far past time for these senseless attacks to end,” he said on Twitter.

Ghani condemned what he called a cowardly attack on civilians by the Taliban.

“They have shamelessly claimed responsibility and are celebrating the deaths of innocent lives,” he said on Twitter.

Ghani said he had accepted the resignation of the NDS chief, Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, in response to the Jalalabad killings. Provincial officials and residents said the NDS forces had killed four brothers, one of whom was a working as a secretary for a Senate official.

“As a responsible state we have zero tolerance for civilian casualties,” Ghani said in a tweet, adding that he had ordered an independent probe into the killings.

The UN in a report released in July said that at least 3,812 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019.

Reuters