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At least 65 Afghan troops killed in Taliban assault, as peace talks resume

Former Taliban fighters (Lt. Joe Painter/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Afghan officials say a Taliban attack on a military base to the west of Kabul killed at least 65 members of the country’s security forces.

Taliban militants carried out the assault in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak Province, early on January 21.

“We took about 65 bodies out of the rubble yesterday,” said Mohammad Sardar Bakhyari, deputy head of the provincial council in Maidan Wardak Province.

A senior security official who spoke on condition of anonymity gave an even higher toll of at least 70 killed.

Khawanin Sultani, a council member of Maidan Wardak Province, said on January 22 that the attack also left more than 70 wounded.

The attack came hours before the Taliban announced they had resumed peace talks with U.S. officials.

The assault began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and three gunmen stormed the compound, igniting a firefight with Afghan security forces, officials said.

All three gunmen were said to have been killed.

An unidentified Defense Ministry official in Kabul was quoted as saying that the base housed a training center of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Afghan Taliban was behind the attack — the latest in near-daily assaults by the militants who now hold sway in nearly half of Afghanistan.

The United States strongly condemned the attack.

“In the face of such cowardly acts, the United States stands with the people of Afghanistan, who seek a peaceful future and an end to violence,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to support our Afghan partners to bolster security and achieve an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.”

The violence comes amid stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country’s 17-year war.

Citing a source close to the peace talks, the Reuters news agency said that members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar were meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan.

“Talks between Taliban leaders and U.S. officials started today in Qatar,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Khalilzad ended his visit to Pakistan on January 20 after meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Efforts to negotiate a peace deal to end the fighting in Afghanistan have been beset by disagreement, with the Taliban refusing to hold direct talks with Afghan officials.