ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Afghanistan confirmed Tuesday that a Taliban attack the previous day on a key military base near Kabul killed at least 36 people and wounded 58 others.
The first official casualty toll was released more than 24 hours after the insurgent raid on what was said to be a training facility in the city of Maidan Shahr, about 50 kilometers from the national capital.
Numerous unnamed security officials told media hours after the Monday morning attack that more than 126 people were killed and dozens of others wounded.
The victims were mostly members of Afghan commando forces deployed at the high-profile installation run by the Afghan intelligence agency, known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
The Taliban took responsibility for the violence. It said several insurgents participated in the operation and destroyed the NDS training center, killing more than 90 Afghan special forces. Independent verification of the claims was difficult to ascertain.
Afghan and insurgent officials said a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden U.S.-made armored military vehicle, known as a Humvee, into the NDS center and detonated it before three heavily armed men tried to storm the facility. Officials, however, blamed the massive Humvee bombing for causing most the casualties because Afghan forces swiftly engaged and shot dead other assailants.
Officials said that pro-government militia members were being trained at the NDS facility.
The Taliban continues to stage spectacular battlefield attacks in Afghanistan despite harsh winter weather.
10 killed in Logar province attack
On Sunday, a suicide car bomber rammed a high-profile government convoy in eastern Logar province, killing at least 10 Afghan security forces.
The provincial governor and top security officials traveling in the convoy were apparently the target of the attack. The insurgent group claimed responsibility.
Peace talks resume
Hours after the attack Monday morning, the Taliban announced its representatives had resumed peace talks with American officials in Qatar to negotiate the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.
The dialogue was initially scheduled for two days but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced Tuesday the two sides will convene again on Wednesday to continue the discussions for a third day. U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is leading the U.S. team, according to Taliban sources.
“Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending the invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid after Monday’s talks.
Khalilzad has held several rounds of talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar in recent months, and the last interaction between the two sides took place in the United Arab Emirates in December.
Diplomatic sources privy to the previous meetings told VOA that Taliban and U.S. delegations, in their current dialogue, are expected to finalize proposals they had exchanged in Abu Dhabi regarding a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The extension of the U.S.-Taliban meeting into the third day has increased chances of a major announcement at the end of the meeting that could set the stage for a productive Afghan peace process, the sources said without elaborating further.