The White House condemned a deadly attack by the Taliban that rocked the Afghan capital Monday, leaving six people dead and more than a hundred others injured, as U.S. negotiators entered into another round of peace talks with senior members of the Islamic extremist group.
“This brazen attack demonstrates the Taliban’s callous disregard for their fellow Afghans, who have repeatedly voiced the urgency of finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” the Trump administration said in a statement Monday night.
A powerful car bomb blast ripped through downtown Kabul during the early morning commute setting off a nearly 10-hour attack that included a series of smaller explosions and a gun battle between insurgents and Afghan security forces, according to the Associated Press.
“Two police, a child, a private security guard and two passers-by were killed,” the AP said. By Monday night, 116 people had been treated for injuries at nearby hospitals, government spokesman Feroz Bashari told NPR.
The initial explosion blew up outside of the Afghan Defense Ministry compound in the city, shattering windows and sending shards of glass and smoke into the surrounding area. After the blast, five gunmen stormed a nearby building and began raining bullets into the ministry and on rescuers, Reuters reported.
The five attackers were killed in the shootout and one suspected Taliban informant was also “arrested on the spot at the scene,” Bashari said.
Nooria Nazhat, the spokesperson for Afghanistan’s ministry of education, told the AP that 51 children attending two nearby schools were injured by debris caused by the exploding van.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bloody attack.
The Afghan government called the attacks on civilians and school children “an inhuman” and un-Islamic act.
The fresh round of violence is the latest escalation in deadly clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces, that both sides say have killed nearly 300 fighters. The outbreak also runs parallel to the seventh round of peace talks, which began on Saturday between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban.
The meeting in Qatar, where the militant group has established a political office, was in its third day on Monday. But after the blasts it is unclear whether any headway has been made. The Taliban is pushing for an immediate timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and refuses to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government calling it a U.S. puppet.
Meanwhile, American government officials who are aiming to bring an end to the 18-year-war say it will take from a year to 18 months to pull troops out of the country. They are asking the Taliban to guarantee that Afghan territory would not be used as a base by foreign militants as it had been by al-Qaida before and after the September 11th attacks.
During an unannounced visit to Kabul last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was close to reaching a preliminary agreement with the Taliban.
“Regarding terrorism, we’ve made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Pompeo said.
The AP reported the Trump administration is pressing for a peace deal before Sept. 1 ahead of the presidential elections at the end of the month.