August 7, 2019 / 5:07 AM / 15 days ago

Taliban bomb kills 14, wounds 145, despite hopes for Afghan pact

KABUL (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 145 in the Afghan capital Kabul on Wednesday, an attack the government said raised questions about the militants’ commitment to peace despite an expected deal with the United States.

There has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan even though the Taliban and the United States appear close to a pact for U.S. troops to withdraw in exchange for a Taliban promise that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for international terrorism.

The truck bomb in the west of the capital during the morning rush hour sent a huge cloud of grey smoke into the sky.

The Taliban said one of their suicide bombers had attacked a “recruitment centre” in response to government attacks in the countryside.

Most of the dead and wounded were civilians, including women and children, government officials said.

“Continued Taliban attacks indicate that they have no commitment to peace,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, told a news conference.

Zalmay Khalizad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban to end America’s longest war, condemned the blast.

“Indiscriminate attacks and intentional injury to civilians are never warranted,” Khalizad tweeted. “The focus should be on immediately reducing violence as we move closer to intra-Afghan negotiations that will produce a political roadmap and a permanent ceasefire.”

President Donald Trump has announced his aim to end a war launched in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Damaged police vehicles are seen at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Khalizad began his negotiations late last year in Qatar but the talking has not brought a reduction in the violence. And the violence has had virtually no impact on the talks.

Both sides reported significant progress this week in their efforts to forge a pact.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.

THREAT OF ELECTION ATTACKS

The Taliban said Wednesday’s bomb was a response to daily attacks by government forces in the countryside.

“You shall pay for your crimes in villages and rural areas right in Kabul and other cities,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a post on Twitter.

Nevertheless, he said “steady but positive progress” was being made in the talks, and efforts were aimed at a solution that does not generate problems in future.

A Taliban promise to talk peace with the U.S.-backed government is likely be part of any agreement with the United States, but many Afghan government officials fear their war with the Taliban will not end.

The militants control more territory than at any point since the United States bombed them out of power in 2001 and both sides have been launching assaults, and suffering heavy casualties.

Slideshow (19 Images)

Wednesday’s suicide attack came a day after the Taliban called for a boycott of the planned Sept. 28 presidential election and threatened to attack election rallies.

The bomb exploded when the truck carrying it was stopped at a checkpoint outside the police station. It caused extensive damage with facades blown off buildings and a jumble of rubble and vehicles strewn around a huge crater.

Four of the 14 people killed were policemen and the rest were civilians while 92 of the 145 wounded were civilians, Deputy Interior Minister Khoshal Sadat told a news conference.

Editional reporting by Orooj Hakimi; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait, Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry

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