KABUL -- Taliban suicide bombers targeted a key US military base in Afghanistan Wednesday (December 11) in an attack that wounded more than 70 civilians, officials said, amid renewed peace talks between the United States and the militants.
The early morning assault began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-packed vehicle outside a hospital building near Bagram military base in Parwan Province, north of Kabul, according to local officials.
Seven more gunmen, some wearing suicide vests, are believed to have then entered the building -- which was under construction and not operational -- in order to use it as a launching pad for assaults on the nearby US base, local officials said.
Almost 10 hours into the battle, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least three militants were still holed up inside the hospital compound, fighting Afghan and foreign forces.
"Three attackers are still inside the building resisting, while three more have been killed and one arrested," Rahimi told AFP.
At least two Afghan civilians, including one woman, were killed while 73 others were wounded in the explosion that damaged houses up to 300 metres away, Rahimi said.
A Taliban spokesman later claimed responsibility.
"The attack was quickly contained and repelled ... but the future medical facility was badly damaged," NATO's Resolute Support Mission said in a statement.
It said there were no US or coalition casualties, but the Republic of Georgia's Defence Ministry said five of its soldiers received minor injuries.
President Ashraf Ghani in a statement released by his office condemned the attack, calling it "crime against humanity.
"The terrorists do not achieve their ominous goals by carrying out terrorist attacks on public facilities and health and service centres because our defence and security forces suppress them everywhere," Ghani said.
Peace talks in question
The assault comes as Washington resumed talks with the Taliban on Saturday (December 7), three months after President Donald Trump cancelled them following a Taliban suicide attack that killed 12 people including a US soldier in Kabul.
Trump made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with US troops and t meet with Ghani.
"The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we're meeting with them, and we're saying it has to be a ceasefire," he told reporters, confirming the resumption of the stalled talks.
The latest attack appears to be in line with the Taliban's strategy of murdering Afghan civilians as a means to put pressure on the Afghan government and its international allies at the negotiating table.
"The militants want to increase their attacks and kill civilians to pressure the international community and the Afghan government in the talks," said Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, a member of the Kunduz Provincial Council, during earlier peace talks in September.
He made his remarks after a Taliban bombing in Kabul on September 2 that killed at least 16 and wounded 119 others, all civilians, and after a militant attack against Kunduz city at the time.
"All of the Taliban attacks that were launched to win at the negotiating table encountered total defeat by the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces [ANDSF]," said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesperson for the Defence Ministry, after those incidents.
"Their plan failed, and Afghans now understand that the Taliban are lying and unable to take over provinces," he said.
"They only create terror and kill civilians in order to gain leverage in the negotiations."