KABUL (Reuters) – A Taliban attack on a government security compound in central Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least eight security personnel and six civilians and wounded more than 140, officials said, as rival Afghan groups met in Qatar to discuss peace.
Islamist Taliban fighters detonated a car bomb in Ghazni city near an office of the country’s main intelligence unit, National Directorate of Security (NDS), during Sunday morning’s rush hour, officials said.
“Dozens of NDS officers were killed or wounded,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
Health officials in Ghazni said 13 adults, including eight NDS members, and a child were killed. At least 27 children were among the 140 people wounded.
“The casualty figures may rise as this is not the last report of those injured in the powerful blast,” said Zaher Shah Nekmal, a health director in Ghazni province.
The blast in a crowded area of Ghazni city was the latest in a wave of near-daily attacks by the Taliban, who now hold sway over about half of Afghanistan and continue to intensify attacks on Afghan forces despite increased U.S. efforts towards a peace agreement to end the 18-year war.
The attack came hours before Taliban officials were to begin meeting a group of Afghan delegates in Qatar as part of diplomatic efforts to end years of violence and build trust between Afghan civilians and the militant group.
The Taliban, who have repeatedly refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the intra-Afghan summit on the condition that those there would attend in a personal capacity.
About 60 high-profile Afghan figures and activists were in Doha to meet the Taliban officials during the two-day conference, a meeting arranged by German and Qatari officials with the support of U.S. negotiators.
U.S. and Taliban officials will reconvene on Tuesday.
The warring sides started a seventh round of peace talks last week, which U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, described on Twitter on Saturday as the most productive session to date.
He said substantive progress had been made on all four parts of a peace deal: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan negotiations, and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
Military conflict and attacks on civilians have intensified even as the diplomatic process gains momentum, triggering tremendous unease among some Afghans about the significance of holding peace talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban took responsibility for detonating a car bomb at the start of a lengthy gun fight outside a defense ministry compound in the capital, Kabul, last week. Six people were killed and more than 100 civilians, including 60 children, were wounded in that attack.