A Taliban suicide car bomb-and-gun attack against a provincial police headquarters in northern Afghanistan has killed at least 13 security personnel and injured more than 55 other people.
Afghan officials said the assault in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, began around midday Sunday with a Taliban bomber detonating an explosive-laden U.S.-made humvee military vehicle at the main entrance before a group of seven heavily armed insurgents stormed the facility.
Afghan security forces quickly engaged the assailants in a gunfight and neutralized all of them to end the siege that lasted six hours, said an Afghan interior ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi. He noted that 20 civilians were also among those injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan security forces. The group’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed the initial massive explosion destroyed most of the building and “multiple” Taliban attackers were engaged in gun battles with Afghan forces. He rejected official claims the siege had ended.
The latest insurgent attack comes as a team of U.S. negotiators holds peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar to seek a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. The latest round of discussions began Monday, but neither side has reported any significant outcome.
The Taliban has rejected latest appeals made by American chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the United Nations to cease hostilities.
The U.S. side would have to agree and announce a foreign troop withdrawal timetable before the Taliban decides to declare a ceasefire and participate in intra-Afghan peace talks, the group’s chief political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told VOA in an exclusive interview.
“The [negotiations] process is going on, maybe slowly, but it is going on. But it has not reached a conclusion. We are trying on our side to have a breakthrough,” Shaheen said.
The spokesman insisted they initiated direct talks with the United States “not under any compulsion” and their " primary goal” is to seek an end to “foreign occupation” of Afghanistan. “We understand other matters are equally important and we do have a plan to deal with them once we get the issue of occupation resolved."
Washington wants solid Taliban’s assurances that in the event of a foreign troop drawdown transnational terrorist groups would not be allowed to use Afghan soil for attacks against the United States and other countries.
Khalilzad on Saturday emphasized that all sides need to end hostilities to ensure Afghan peace process is productive.
“All sides laying down arms is the outcome of any peace process. All sides agreeing to reduce violence is a necessary step toward achieving that outcome and the morally responsible choice to make. We stand ready,” the Afghan-born American diplomat tweeted.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called on all parties to halt fighting during the holy month of Ramadan, beginning Monday.
“It is our hope that the observance of Ramadan will provide an opportunity for all communities in Afghanistan to come closer together. In that spirit, the U.N. calls on all parties to the conflict to halt the fighting,” a statement quoted UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto as saying Sunday.