By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain
KABUL (Reuters) – A Taliban suicide blast in the centre of Kabul killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 40 on Thursday, destroying cars and shops in an area near the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO force and the U.S. embassy, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack even as the insurgents and U.S. officials have been negotiating a deal on a U.S. troop withdrawal in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
“At least 10 civilians have been killed and 42 injured were taken to hospitals,” said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the interior ministry.
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement a Romanian and a U.S. member of the force were killed in action in Kabul, but it did not provide any more details.
A senior Afghan interior ministry official said the two were killed in the suicide bomb attack and their vehicle was the main target.
Video footage and photographs posted on social media showed several cars and small shops torn apart by the blast at a checkpoint on a road near the NATO office and U.S. embassy. Police cordoned off the area.
Witnesses said the suicide bomber blew himself up as many people were standing nearby or crossing the road.
Besmellah Ahmadi said he suffered minor wounds and sought shelter in a shop.
“My car windows were shattered. People rushed to get me out,” he told Reuters.
There has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan even though both the Taliban and U.S. officials have reported progress in negotiations aimed at securing a deal on ending their war.
On Monday, a Taliban suicide truck bomber attacked a compound used by international organisations in Kabul, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 100.
A Romanian was among those killed and one was seriously wounded in the attack on the compound, known as the Green Village.
The U.S. top negotiator for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad said this week the two sides had drawn up a draft framework agreement under which U.S. troops would leave five military bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of the signing of the pact.
There are some 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, deployed at various bases across the country. Despite ending their combat role in 2014, an estimated 20,000 US and NATO security forces remain in the war-ravaged country to train, advice and assist Afghan forces.
Khalilzad is expected to meet Afghan and NATO officials to explain the draft agreement, which must still be approved by U.S. President Donald Trump before it can be signed.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-American diplomat, has shared details of the draft with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and sought his opinion before firming up an agreement that could bring an end to America’s longest military intervention overseas.
But Ghani’s government is seeking clarification from the United States on the draft agreement.
“The world must break its silence,” Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter, referring to what some people in Afghanistan see as a recent U.S. reluctance to criticise the Taliban, through fear of derailing the talks.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, condemned the attack.
“It is far past time for these senseless attacks to end,” he said on Twitter. He did not refer to the Taliban.
President Ghani condemned what he called a cowardly attack on civilians by the Taliban.
“They have shamelessly claimed responsibility and are celebrating the deaths of innocent lives,” he said on Twitter.
In a separate incident, Taliban fighters said they detonated a car bomb near a security meeting in the eastern province of Loghar. Government officials said four civilians were killed.
The country’s main security agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said their special forces killed four men in eastern Jalalabad city for allegedly having links with Islamic State (IS) fighters.
Provincial officials and residents said the NDS forces had killed four brothers on Wednesday night, and some of them rejected any suggestion they were linked to IS. One of the brothers was a working as a secretary for a Senate official, they said.
Ghani said later he had accepted the resignation of the NDS chief Mohammed Stanekzaiin response to the Jalalabad killings.
(Additional reporting Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Idrees Ali in Washington, Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)