KABUL • A Taleban attack on a government security compound in central Afghanistan yesterday killed at least eight security personnel and six civilians and wounded about 180, officials said, as rival Afghan groups met in Qatar to discuss peace.
Islamist Taleban fighters detonated a car bomb yesterday morning in Ghazni city, near an office of Afghanistan's main intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), officials said.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack. "Dozens of NDS officers were killed or wounded," 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 60 children who were attending classes in a private school near the blast site were among the 180 people wounded.
Mr Zaher Shah Nekmal, a health director in Ghazni province, said the number of casualties was expected to rise.
The blast in a crowded area of Ghazni city was the latest in a wave of near-daily attacks by the Taleban, who now hold sway over about half of Afghanistan and continue to intensify attacks despite increased US efforts towards a peace agreement to end the 18-year war.
The attack came hours before Taleban officials were due to meet Afghan delegates in Qatar as part of efforts to end years of violence and build trust between Afghan civilians and the militant group.
The Taleban have repeatedly refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
About 60 Afghan figures and activists were in Doha to meet Taleban officials during the two-day conference. It was arranged by German and Qatari officials with the support of US negotiators.
Mr Ghani condemned the Taleban bombing in Ghazni yesterday and questioned their real intent.
"They stain their hands with the blood of innocent people in Afghanistan every day. They should know that it is not possible to gain privileges in peace talks by targeting civilians, especially children," he said in a statement.
US and Taleban officials will reconvene tomorrow. The warring sides started a seventh round of peace talks last week, which US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Mr 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 Taleban.
Government officials in the southern provinces of Logar and Helmand said the Afghan forces had conducted several air strikes on Taleban hideouts in the last 36 hours, killing over 30 insurgents.
The Taleban took responsibility for detonating a car bomb at the start of a lengthy gunfight outside a defence 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.
In western Ghor province, a landmine explosion killed seven children and wounded one on Saturday, officials said. The insurgents often place landmines to target Afghan security forces.