Taliban bombers target key US Afghanistan base as talks resume

Updated December 11, 2019

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Security personnel arrive near the site of an attack near the Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan on Dec 11 after a suicide bombing targeted an under-construction medical facility near the main American base, said the United States military. — AP
Security personnel arrive near the site of an attack near the Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan on Dec 11 after a suicide bombing targeted an under-construction medical facility near the main American base, said the United States military. — AP

Taliban suicide bombers targeted a key United States military base in Afghanistan on Wednesday in a major attack that wounded more than 70 civilians, officials said, amid renewed peace talks between US and the militants.

The early morning assault began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan province, north of the capital Kabul, according to local officials.

Seven more gunmen, some wearing suicide vests are believed to have then entered the building — which was under construction and not operational — in order to use it as a launching pad for attacks against the nearby US base, local officials said.

Almost 10 hours into the attack, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman said at least three militants were still holed up inside the hospital compound, fighting Afghan and foreign forces.

“Three attackers are still inside the building resisting, while three more have been killed and one arrested,” Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.

At least two Afghan civilians, including one woman, were killed while 73 others were wounded in the explosion that damaged houses up to 300 metres away, Rahimi said.

A Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming that "tens" of US and Afghan soldiers had been killed or wounded.

In a WhatsApp message, Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants had detonated a truck bomb outside Bagram base, but denied Taliban fighters had taken up positions inside a hospital.

Afghan and US officials could not immediately confirm if a truck bomb had been used in the attack.

"The attack was quickly contained and repelled [...] but the future medical facility was badly damaged,” Nato's Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

It said there were no US or coalition casualties but Georgia's defence ministry said five of its soldiers received minor injuries in the attack.

The assault comes as Washington resumed talks with the Taliban on Saturday, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled them after a Taliban suicide attack killed 12 people including a US soldier, in Kabul.

Trump made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops and meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"The Taliban want to make a deal and we're meeting with them and we're saying it has to be a ceasefire," he told reporters, confirming the resumption of the stalled talks.

It was not immediately clear if the Taliban's targeting of the US' largest Afghan military base would affect the renewed talks between the two sides.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported on thousands of US government documents which showed that senior American officials had insisted progress was being made in Afghanistan despite clear evidence the war had become unwinnable.