Taliban attack Kabul as US envoy says deal almost final

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The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a large explosion that killed at least five people in the Afghan capital, hours after a US envoy briefed the Afghan government on an agreement “in principle” with the insurgent group that would see 5,000 troops leave the country in five months.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahmi confirmed the target of the blast was the Green Village compound, an area that is home to several international organisations and guesthouses.

The explosion sent a plume of smoke into the night sky over Kabul and caused a nearby filling station to burst into flames.

Another interior ministry official, Bahar Maher, told the local TOLO news channel that the blast was caused by a car bomb.

Wounded men in hospital
Wounded men in hospital (Rahmat Gul/AP)

The Green Village, home to many foreigners and heavily guarded by Afghan forces and private security guards, has been a frequent target.

The compound was hit by a suicide car bomber in January who killed at least four people and wounded scores. That blast occurred when the US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, was visiting the capital to brief the Afghan government on his negotiations with the Taliban on ending America’s longest war.

The latest blast occurred during the final minutes of a nationally televised interview with Mr Khalilzad on what a US-Taliban deal might mean for Afghanistan’s future.

Earlier on Monday, he had shown a draft deal to the Afghan president after declaring they were “at the threshold of an agreement” following the ninth round of US-Taliban talks in Qatar. The agreement still needs President Donald Trump’s approval.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the negotiations and the Afghan government’s sidelined role in the talks so far, it was not clear whether President Ashraf Ghani was given the draft to keep.

“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle but of course until the US president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Mr Khalilzad told TOLO news.

He said that under the deal, the first 5,000 US troops would withdraw within 135 days from five bases in Afghanistan. Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are in the country.

Mr Trump last week said the US plans to reduce its troop presence to 8,600 and then “make a determination from there”. He has been eager to withdraw troops before next year’s election and the draft deal easily meets that deadline.

The reduction would bring troop levels down to roughly where they were when he took office in January 2017. A further withdrawal is expected to depend on the Taliban meeting conditions of the deal, including a reduction in violence.

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