KABUL — A suicide truck bomb exploded Wednesday night outside a British security compound on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, sparking a gun battle that continued for several hours, police said. The attack, which was quickly claimed by the Taliban, left at least 10 people dead and 19 injured and forced the closure of the nearby international airport.
The assault, which a Taliban spokesman said was aimed at “an important base of occupying forces,” was the latest episode in a spate of insurgent violence that has included raids on villages in central Ghazni province and a bombing that left 50 dead at a gathering of Sunni Islamic clerics in the capital.
It came just hours after President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, outlined a comprehensive plan for peace talks with the Taliban, naming a 12-member negotiating team and declaring that his government seeks a peace agreement “in which the Afghan Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society.”
Meanwhile, election officials in Kabul announced Wednesday that they would stick with plans to hold the presidential election in April, deflecting widespread speculation that the government would postpone the voting to ensure that a contentious political battle did not interfere with the more urgent need to settle the 17-year conflict.
In outlining his detailed “road map” for peace at the Geneva meeting, Ghani stressed that the presidential election is “key to successful peace negotiations.”
He said the country needs “an elected government with a mandate” to “implement a peace agreement and lead the societal reconciliation process.”
The Taliban has repeatedly snubbed Ghani’s overtures since agreeing to a brief cease-fire in June. The group has insisted that it will negotiate only with U.S. officials, while pursuing a relentless ground war that has left it controlling more territory than ever. It has also reached out to other governments, including Russia.
The Trump administration has been pressing hard to get negotiations underway, and its special peace envoy, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, has held numerous meetings with Taliban representatives as well as officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In his speech Wednesday, Ghani outlined an ambitious five-phase plan to build a lasting peace, which he said could take as long as five years to implement. It would start with negotiations among Afghans, then talks with Pakistan and the United States, and extend to other foreign powers.
It is far from clear how the Taliban will react to Ghani’s plan, although the group has sent senior officials to meet with Khalilzad.
Sharif Hassan and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.