The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a large explosion in the Afghan capital, just hours after a US envoy briefed the Afghan government on an agreement “in principle” with the insurgent group that would see 5,000 US troops leave the country within five months.
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahmi said at least five civilians were killed and around 50 wounded, but said the toll could still rise because a number of homes were destroyed.
He confirmed that the target of the blast was the Green Village compound, which houses several international organisations and guesthouses. The explosion sent a plume of smoke into the night sky over Kabul and caused a nearby gasoline station to burst into flames.
Another interior ministry official, Bahar Maher, told the local Tolo news channel that the blast was caused by a car bomb.
“It was a horrifying explosion,” a witness, Wali Jan, said. One hospital director, Dr Nezamuddin Jalil, said the wounded included women and children. Associated Press video showed bloodied people streaming into a local hospital.
The blast occurred during the final minutes of a nationally televised interview with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on what a US-Taliban deal might mean for Afghanistan’s future.
Earlier on Monday, Khalilzad showed a draft deal to the Afghan president after declaring that they are “at the threshold of an agreement” following the end of the ninth round of US-Taliban talks in Qatar. The agreement still needs Donald Trump’s approval.
Trump last week told Fox News the US planned to reduce its troop presence to 8,600 and then “make a determination from there.” He has been eager to withdraw troops before the 2020 election and the draft deal meets that deadline.
The reduction would bring troop levels down to roughly where they were when Trump took office in January 2017. A further troop withdrawal is expected to depend on the Taliban meeting conditions of the deal, including a reduction in violence. Kabul residents question whether any agreement with the Taliban can be trusted, especially as foreign troops withdraw.
The Taliban are at their strongest since the US-led invasion to topple their government after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and now control or hold sway over roughly half the country. The insurgents want all of the estimated 20,000 US and Nato forces to leave Afghanistan and already portray their departure as a victory.
For its part the US seeks Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for extremist groups to plan and launch global terror attacks.
Reflecting the sensitivity of the negotiations and the Afghan government’s sidelined role in the talks so far, it was not clear whether President Ashraf Ghani was given the draft to keep.
“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle but of course until the US president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Khalilzad told Tolo news. He said that under the deal the first 5,000 US troops would withdraw within 135 days from five bases in Afghanistan. Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are in the country.