On Monday night, Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. negotiator in Afghanistan, went on TV in Kabul and said he had agreed to a deal “in principle” to end America’s longest-running war and see the U.S. withdraw 5,400 troops from the country by the start of next year.
Within hours of the interview being broadcast, a Taliban suicide bomber strapped a bomb to a tractor and drove it into an international compound in Kabul. The resulting explosion killed 16 people and injured 100. The Taliban quickly claimed credit, saying the attack was designed to target foreigners as retribution for U.S. attacks on Afghan civilians.
The U.S. has held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 18-year conflict. But Monday's attack was a clear message that the Taliban has no intention of ending the cycle of daily violence that has taken a huge toll on Afghan civilians.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, told Tolo News that in exchange for the troop withdrawal, the Taliban agreed that Afghanistan would never again be used as a base for militant groups seeking to attack the U.S. and its allies.
“We have agreed that if the conditions proceed according to the agreement, we will leave within 135 days five bases in which we are present now,” Khalilzad said in his televised interview. The deal was the result of nine rounds of peace talks that have been held in the Gulf state of Qatar, and still requires the approval of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The U.S. currently has around 14,000 troops in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops would be on the condition of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, as well as a ceasefire, the BBC reports.
However, Monday’s explosion was a grim reminder of the unrelenting bloodshed the country has experienced in recent years.
The target of the blast was the Green Village compound, which houses several international organizations and guesthouses. After the explosion, security forces evacuated some 400 foreigners from the area.
A Taliban spokesman told the Associated Press the latest attack was a response to raids by U.S. and Afghan forces on civilians in other parts of the country.
The blast, which left a large crater in the street, was greeted with anger by local residents who called on the government to expel all foreigners immediately.
“This is not the first time we suffer because of them," resident Abdul Jamil told news agency AFP. "We don't want them here any more.”
The Taliban now controls a huge swath of the country, more than at any time since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The militant group has so far refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, whom they view as American puppets.
“As far as the Taliban are concerned, they will keep bombing,” Ejaz Malikzada, a researcher at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, told the BBC. “They say: 'we'll fight even if we sign an agreement with the Americans we'll keep fighting and we'll kill, no matter what'. So the Taliban have not changed, the only change that I can see is their bombs have got bigger.”
Cover: Burning cars are seen inside the Green Village after Monday's suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The attack occurred late Monday near the Green Village, home to several international organizations and guesthouses. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)