Big Death Toll Feared in Kabul Bombing as Taliban Continue Talks With U.S.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A powerful Taliban car bomb exploded Wednesday outside the entrance of a police station in Kabul, the Afghan capital, injuring at least 95 people and raising fears of a large death toll as peace negotiations between the militants and United States diplomats continued.

The explosion, following repeated warnings from the United Nations on rising civilian casualties, was the latest to strike a heavily populated area during the morning rush hour. The blast sent plumes of thick smoke into the sky and shattered windows in a radius of about a mile.

Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the Afghan health ministry, said 95 people, including children, were injured. Officials would not comment about the death toll, but local media reports suggested that at least 20 had been killed.

Jalal Nazari, who lives about a half mile from the scene of the attack, said he had been lying down in his room when the explosion took place. “I thought it was in our yard,” he said. “The windows shattered, and I got up and went to a corner.”

“It was a bad situation; everywhere was dark, and then shooting started,” he added. “I was so scared.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the group was responsible for the attack, adding that the insurgents targeted a recruitment center for Afghan forces and that many soldiers were killed or wounded.

The attack came the morning after a tense night across Kabul, with explosions heard in several parts of the city past midnight. The Afghan intelligence agency, in a statement on Wednesday morning, said it had raided three cells of the Islamic State in different parts of the city, resulting in clashes with suspected bomb makers.

Although the Taliban are responsible for much of the war’s insurgent violence, a small affiliate of the Islamic State has gained a stubborn foothold in the east of the country, and has claimed it carried out repeated suicide attacks in urban centers.

The United Nations said July was the deadliest month in Afghanistan in the last few years, with 1,500 civilians killed or wounded.

While the global organization blamed an increase in Taliban attacks for the rise that month, it said in an earlier report on casualties over the first six months of the year that Afghan forces and their international allies were responsible for more civilian deaths than the Taliban.

In a sign of how widespread the violence is, Afghan security forces conducted nearly 100 large military operations and small commando raids and airstrikes in the last 24 hours, the defense ministry said, adding that it had killed at least 84 Taliban fighters and wounded dozens of others.

Both sides often exaggerate casualty tolls, which are difficult to independently verify.

The violence comes as American diplomats are hashing out final details of a preliminary agreement with the Taliban in talks in the Qatari capital, Doha. A deal would pave the way for immediate direct negotiations between the Taliban and other Afghans over the political future of the country.

An agreement between the insurgents and the United States, expected to be finalized soon, would result in a schedule for a conditional withdrawal of the remaining 14,000 American troops and their NATO partners in return for assurances on the prevention of terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies from Afghan soil.

While the United States seems to have assured a third element of its peace plan — direct negotiations between the Taliban and other Afghans, including the national government, immediately after an announcement of a schedule for troop withdrawals — there is little clarity on a demand for a comprehensive cease-fire.

Source: NYT

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