16 dead, 119 hurt in Taliban attack in Kabul, official says

The death toll from a late-night Taliban suicide attack in the Afghan capital rose to 16 civilians on Tuesday, with 119 people wounded, an official said. Angry Kabul residents climbed over the wall into the international compound, which has been targeted frequently, and set part of it on fire.

Attack comes after U.S. envoy briefs Afghan government on deal "in principle" with Taliban

An official said 16 people were killed and 119 wounded in a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

The death toll from a late-night Taliban suicide attack in the Afghan capital rose to 16 civilians on Tuesday, with 119 people wounded, an official said.

Thick black smoke rose from the Green Village, home to several international organizations and guesthouses and often a target of attacks — a peril to nearby local residents as well.

The attack occurred just hours after a U.S. envoy said he and the militant group had reached a deal "in principle" that would see 5,000 U.S. troops leave the country within five months.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that "we understand that peace talks are going on ... but they must also understand that we are not weak and if we enter into talks ... we enter from a strong position." 

He said the attack was a response to raids by U.S. and Afghan forces on civilians across the country. While he acknowledged there should be less harm to civilians, he said they shouldn't live near such an important foreign compound.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said some 400 foreigners had been rescued after the suicide bomber targeted the compound late on Monday. The blast occurred on the street outside and destroyed a number of homes.

Five attackers were shot and killed by security forces after the bomber, who was apparently driving a tractor packed with explosives, detonated his vehicle, Rahimi said. The explosion hit the western wall of the compound.

'At the threshold of an agreement'

The Green Village also was hit by a suicide car bomber in January, again as the U.S. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, was visiting the capital to brief the Afghan government on his negotiations with the Taliban on ending nearly 18 years of fighting.

In the wake of these attacks, questions have grown among some in Washington about the dangers of trusting the Taliban to make peace. On Tuesday, several former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan warned in a joint statement published by the Atlantic Council that "it is not clear whether peace is possible," saying the Taliban have "made it clear that the war will go on against the Afghan government." 

A full U.S. troop withdrawal that moves too quickly and without requiring the Taliban to meet conditions such as reducing violence could lead the militant group to avoid making compromises with other Afghans, the former envoys warned. Civil war could follow and give al-Qaeda and the local ISIS affiliate space to grow, they said: "All of this could prove catastrophic for U.S. national security."

Hours before Monday's attack, 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 U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar. The agreement still needs U.S. President Donald Trump's approval.

There was no immediate comment from Khalilzad after the blast that was strongly condemned by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Shaken Kabul residents have also questioned whether any agreement with the Taliban can be trusted, especially as foreign troops withdraw.

The Taliban wants all of the some 20,000 U.S. and NATO troops out of Afghanistan immediately, while the U.S. seeks a withdrawal in phases that would depend on the Taliban meeting certain conditions such as a reduction in violence.

Attacks have surged in recent months, including Taliban assaults on two provincial capitals over the weekend, as the group seeks to strengthen its negotiating position not only with the U.S. but with the Afghan government in the even more challenging intra-Afghan talks that are meant to follow a U.S.-Taliban deal on Afghanistan's future.

Some analysts also have warned that some factions of the Taliban might be expressing displeasure with the U.S. deal, though Taliban political leaders at the talks in Qatar have insisted that their tens of thousands of fighters would respect whatever agreement is reached.