Officials in Afghanistan say a Taliban suicide assault on a provincial headquarters of the Afghan spy agency has killed at least 11 people and injured 63 others.
The insurgent raid in Aybak, the capital city of northern Samangan province, comes amid a string of Taliban attacks in the last week that killed a number of Afghan forces, posing fresh challenges to U.S.-led peacemaking efforts.
Provincial governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi told VOA that civilians, including women, were among the victims of Monday’s attack on the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
The Taliban confirmed three of its fighters carried out the “martyrdom” attack, saying they killed dozens of NDS personnel and injured many more. The insurgent group’s claims are often inflated.
Officials in Samangan said the attack began with a suicide bomber detonating an explosives-packed car at the main entrance, enabling other attackers to storm the NDS compound and engage Afghan forces in an hours-long gunfight.
The attack inside the major Afghan urban center comes after the United States signed a peace-building agreement with the Taliban in February to end nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.
The deal binds the insurgents not to attack American and coalition forces in the country. U.S. officials have also noted repeatedly that the Taliban has pledged to reduce battlefield violence and stop bomb attacks inside Afghan cities.
“Today’s attack on an intelligence nest in Samangan province carries a message to those who do not understand the language of diplomacy,” the Taliban said in a statement published on its official website. The group went on to justify the violence, saying the Taliban must resort to such actions to punish NDS operatives for inflicting injustices on Afghans.
The insurgent warning was apparently also directed at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which is calling on the Taliban to cease hostilities ahead of proposed intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
The intensified violence and a disputed prisoner swap between the Taliban and the government have stalled efforts aimed at pushing the warring sides to the table to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal before U.S.-led foreign troops withdraw from the country by mid 2021 under the agreement.
The U.S.-Taliban deal calls for Afghan rivals to open peace negotiations immediately after concluding the prisoner exchange process, with Kabul releasing up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held by the insurgents.
Afghan officials say they have so far released around 4,200 inmates while the Taliban says it has set free fewer than 800 government detainees.
The Kabul government, however, has refused to free several hundred of the remaining prisoners, saying they have been convicted of serious crimes such as drug trafficking, abducting citizens, sexual assault, stoning of women, and assassinations.
“However, we have given the Taliban the choice to submit to us another 592 names for consideration for release,” Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council, said in a statement he tweeted last week.
The Taliban on Sunday rejected as “illogical” calls for the insurgents to stop the fighting before the negotiations, and insisted it would only accept those prisoners who are listed in a document the group shared with American interlocutors.
“It is of utmost importance that those prisoners who are to be released, must be in accordance with the list of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) as decided upon in Doha,” said Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s political office in the capital of Qatar, where the U.S.-Taliban deal was inked.
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