KABUL – At least 13 people, including nine civilians, were killed Monday in a suicide bombing targeting Afghan police that was claimed by Taliban insurgents in a remote area northwest of Kabul, authorities said.
The bomber targeted a local police chief, injuring him on the eve of the latest round of quadrilateral talks to be held in Kabul in a bid to revive the peace process with the Taliban and end more than 14 years of war.
“There are 13 dead, nine civilians and four policemen, as well as 19 injured, 17 of whom are civilians,” Parwan province police chief Mohammed Zaman Mamozai told AFP.
Wahid Seddiqi, spokesman for the provincial governor, gave a higher toll of 14 dead, including six policemen and eight civilians, and said the bomber was riding a motorcycle.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement on Twitter through spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.
The attack occurred in Siagerd district, some 60 km (around 40 miles) northwest of Kabul, a remote mountainous area where the Taliban are firmly entrenched.
Seddiqi said the target was a commander with the Afghan Local Police (ALP), the security force set up by the United States in 2010 to help support the government in its fight against the insurgents.
The ALP has been accused of human rights violations and is a regular Taliban target, along with other security forces in the country.
The Taliban have intensified their insurgency since the end of NATO’s combat mission in late 2014, multiplying bombings and attacks across Afghanistan.
But the Afghan government, along with China, Pakistan and the U.S., have stepped up efforts to revive peace negotiations with the insurgents after an aborted bid last summer.
A fourth round of talks to revive the negotiations will be held Tuesday in Kabul.
The bombing comes as Afghan troops retreat from two districts in the southern province of Helmand, a move highlighting the challenge from Taliban fighters in the opium-producing region.
“The Afghan army retreated from two army bases in Musa Qala and one base from Nawzad district” on Saturday, provincial Gov. Khan Rahimi told AFP Monday, leaving no troops anywhere in those districts.
He said the soldiers had moved to other parts of Helmand, such as the heavily contested districts of Lashkar Gah and Sangin, adding: “We have no concerns regarding this step but we have plans to ensure security in other vulnerable areas.”
But the decision was criticized by Abdul Majeed Akhundzada, deputy chief of the provincial council.
“Retreating from Musa Qala looks to me like ignoring the deaths of Afghan security forces and the civilians,” Akhundzada said.
Helmand has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the Taliban’s battle against local and foreign forces that began in 2001.
Last October, U.S. President Barack Obama said that thousands of U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2016 in what is officially a training and support role, backpedaling on previous plans to reduce the force and acknowledging that Afghan forces are not ready to stand alone.
The U.S. has deployed several hundred troops in Helmand in recent weeks.
In August, Taliban insurgents briefly captured the town of Musa Qala before Afghan forces backed by NATO retook it.