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US, Romanian soldiers among victims of Taliban suicide attack

Omar Sobhani, Reuters | A foreign soldier with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission inspects the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan September 5, 2019.

A Taliban suicide blast in the centre of Kabul Thursday killed at least 10 people, including a US service member and a Romanian soldier, and wounded more than 40 others, mostly Afghan civilians.

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The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack even as the insurgents and US officials have been negotiating a deal on a US troop withdrawal in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

Video footage and photographs posted on social media showed several cars and small shops torn apart by the blast at a checkpoint on a road near the NATO office and US embassy in Kabul.

The victims included a Romanian and a US member of foreign forces in Afghanistan, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said another 42 people were wounded and 12 vehicles destroyed in the explosion. Hours later, the Taliban set off a car bomb outside an Afghan military base in a neighboring province, killing four civilians.

'Peace with a group that is still killing innocent people'

The attacks sparked condemnations from the Afghan government, which has been excluded from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the US since the Pakistan-backed militant Islamist group has refused to negotiate with what it a "foreign stooge".

"Peace with a group that is still killing innocent people is meaningless," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement.

The explosion at the checkpoint, which has been targeted in the past, follows a Taliban attack against a foreign compound late Monday that killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100, almost all of them local civilians.

Hours later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing outside an Afghan military base in the Logar provincial capital, Puli Alam, which houses members of the Afghan special forces. Provincial council chief Haseebullah Stanekzai said a small number of international forces also had been in the area. Governor Anwar Khan Es-Haqzai said four civilians were killed and four others wounded.

'Bitten by this snake before'

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been in Kabul this week briefing Ghani and other Afghan leaders on the US-Taliban deal to end nearly 18 years of fighting that he says only needs President Donald Trump's approval to become a reality. Khalilzad has not commented publicly on this week's attacks.

The Afghan government has raised serious concerns about the deal, including in new comments on Thursday as the latest attack occurred. The agreement was moving with "excessive speed," presidential adviser Waheed Omer told reporters, warning of difficult days ahead.

"Afghans have been bitten by this snake before," Omer said, recalling past agreements from which, like now, the Afghan government has been sidelined. "Where there is no feeling of ownership there is no safety," he said.

Troop withdrawal risks 'total civil war'

The Afghan government on Wednesday said it shares the concerns raised by several former US ambassadors to Afghanistan, who warned that a full US troop withdrawal that moves too quickly and without requiring the Taliban to meet certain conditions, such as reducing violence, could lead to "total civil war" such as the one that engulfed the country in the 1990s, before the Taliban swept into power.

Khalilzad has said 5,000 U.S. troops would withdraw from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of a final deal. Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are currently in the country.

However, the Taliban want all of the approximately 20,000 US and NATO troops out of Afghanistan immediately, while the US seeks a withdrawal in phases that would depend on the Taliban meeting certain conditions, such as a reduction in violence.

The US also seeks Taliban guarantees that they will not allow Afghanistan to become a haven from which extremist groups such as al Qaeda and the local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) group can launch global attacks.

The deal is meant to be followed quickly by intra-Afghan talks that the US would like to see begin ahead of Afghanistan's presidential election on September 28.

The Afghan president, who has been shown the US-Taliban deal but not allowed to keep a copy, has insisted that the election must not be delayed. He seeks a second term and what he calls a strong mandate to negotiate with the militant group on the country's political future. He has rejected talk of an interim government, an idea that has gained such traction in Kabul that many other presidential candidates have barely campaigned.

Ghani's adviser, Omer, acknowledged on Thursday the risks of holding another chaotic election after the presidential one in 2014 and last year's parliamentary vote. He said the election must happen on time but said a vote that is not transparent will "cause challenges."

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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