At least 16 killed in attack in eastern Afghanistan

Afghan security forces keep watch at the site of a suicide attack on the western outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan in 2016. Picture Credit:
Afghan security forces keep watch at the site of a suicide attack on the western outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan in 2016. Picture Credit:
Image: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

At least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack Wednesday on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan, an official said, the latest bloody assault in the war-torn country.

The hours-long attack in Jalalabad began early Wednesday when at least two blasts were heard, an AFP reporter said, before security forces rushed to the scene in the city, which is the capital of Nangarhar province.

"Sixteen employees of the company have been killed and nine more injured," provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

"All five attackers have been killed by security forces," he added.

Nangarhar provincial council member Ajmal Omar put the death toll slightly higher, saying 18 people had been killed with three of the nine injured in a critical condition.

Health workers pored over the injured in a nearby hospital, with bloody bandages covering their wounds.

Spokesman Khogyani added that a clearance operation was ongoing with security defusing two suicide vests, a car bomb, and multiple mines planted by the attackers.

"Armed suicide bombers attacked and managed to enter the building of a private construction company early this morning," said Nangarhar Provincial council member Zabihullah Zmarai.

"A number of civilian workers of the company have been killed," he added.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the Taliban are active in Nangarhar province.

Talks ongoing 

The attack came as US and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.

Despite a two-day break before the weekend, negotiations continue on "a daily basis right now and progress is being made", US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told journalists Tuesday.

"These discussions are ongoing and what we're focusing on are the four interconnected issues that are going to compose any future agreement," Palladino said -- listing them as terrorism, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue and ceasefire.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an exchange with high school students in Iowa that he hoped sufficient gains would be made for him to be able to take a trip to help advance the negotiations "in a couple weeks".

The continuation of the talks follows a major attack on a joint US-Afghan base in southwestern Afghanistan's Helmand province last week, with at least 23 security forces killed in the hours-long assault on one of the largest military installations in the country.

Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a sharp reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country's south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.

Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his eagerness to end America's involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 US troops are still deployed.

Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.

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