Kabul blast toll rises to 16 as US tries to finalise Taleban deal

Policemen keep watch as angry Afghan protesters burn tyres and shout slogans at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept 3, 2019.
Policemen keep watch as angry Afghan protesters burn tyres and shout slogans at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept 3, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (AFP) - A massive blast in a residential area of Kabul killed at least 16 people, officials said on Tuesday (Sept 3), following yet another Taleban attack that came as the insurgents and Washington try to finalise a withdrawal deal.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in the Afghan capital to discuss the proposed deal - which would see the United States withdraw troops in return for Taleban security guarantees - when the Monday bombing happened.

Footage on local television stations showed a massive crater near crumbled blast walls and twisted metal where buildings once stood.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast was caused by a tractor packed with explosives that had been parked alongside a wall by Green Village, a large compound that houses aid agencies and international organisations.

In addition to the 16 killed, 119 were wounded in the attack, Mr Rahimi said, noting that a search-and-rescue operation had lasted through the night.

The bombing was the third major Taleban attack in as many days - and the violence is likely to continue, Taleban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said.

 
 
 

The insurgents are convinced it was their military strength which has forced Washington to open talks with them on a withdrawal, he said.

"This is the weapon in their hands and they will keep on using it until they gain their objectives," he told AFP.

Residents in the area around Green Village were furious that their neighbourhood, which had been targeted before, was hit once again, and blamed the assault on the nearby international presence.

Locals set tyres on fire, sending plumes of thick, acrid smoke into the morning sky, and closed off a main road next to the scene of the attack. The sound of gunfire could be heard on a live TV broadcast on Monday morning.

"We want these foreigners to move out of our neighbourhood," resident Abdul Jamil told AFP. "This is not the first time we suffer because of them... We don't want them here anymore."

In January, a powerful truck bomb detonated near Green Village, killing at least four people and wounding more than 100 others.

Green Village is separate from the nearby Green Zone, a walled-off and heavily fortified part of Kabul that is home to several embassies, including the US and British missions.

U.S. TO LEAVE FIVE BASES

The Taleban claimed Monday's attack, which was condemned by President Ashraf Ghani and came as Afghanistan's main TV station, Tolo News, was broadcasting an interview with Mr Khalilzad.

The Afghan-born envoy, who has spent about a year negotiating with the Taleban, told Tolo the US would pull troops from five bases across Afghanistan under a final deal if the Taleban honour their end of the bargain.

"We have agreed that if the conditions proceed according to the agreement, we will leave within 135 days five bases in which we are present now," Mr Khalilzad said.

The Pentagon gives the official number of US troops in Afghanistan as 14,000 - though the real number is thought to be a bit less - and President Donald Trump last week said America would maintain a permanent presence of about 8,600 troops initially, even after a deal is reached with the Taleban.

That would appear to mean about 5,400 US troops are set to leave Afghanistan under the initial terms of the deal, reducing the US military presence to about what it was before Mr Trump came into office.

In return for reducing troop numbers, the Taleban would vow to cut ties with Al-Qaeda and open negotiations with the Afghan government with the aim of creating an eventual ceasefire.

But even as negotiations for an accord between the US and the Taleban have entered what are widely considered to be the final stages, violence has surged across Afghanistan.

Last Saturday, the Taleban attempted to seize Kunduz in the north, and on Sunday, they launched an operation in the city of Pul-e Khumri, the capital of neighbouring Baghlan province.