KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) — The Taliban said they carried out a deadly attack Thursday on an Afghan army base after the government ordered forces to resume strikes against them.
The defense ministry said a truck bomb targeted the base in the eastern city of Gardez, killing five civilians.
Officials in the city said the dead included at least one soldier, and that another 24 people were wounded, including army personnel.
It came after a particularly violent week which saw President Ashraf Ghani rescind the government’s recent defensive stance aimed at promoting peace talks with the Taliban, and order troops back onto the offensive.
The Taliban, who frequently exaggerate claims, said “tens of soldiers were killed and wounded” and denied that any civilians died.
“After the announcement of the offensive … a martyrdom attack was carried out against an important military headquarters of the Kabul administration,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a WhatsApp message to media on Thursday.
The defense ministry said the suicide bomber detonated the explosive-laden truck before reaching the base. Photos show a major portion of the wall surrounding it was damaged.
On Tuesday, gunmen stormed a hospital in Kabul, killing at least 24 people, including infants and nurses.
It was followed shortly afterward by a suicide bombing at a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which killed 32 mourners.
The attacks triggered international outrage, as images emerged of dead mothers and babies wrapped in blood-soaked blankets.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the “heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks.”
“Deliberately targeting infants, children, mothers and health workers as such is especially abhorrent,” the U.N. said.
The maternity wing of the Kabul hospital was run by Doctors Without Borders, who later revealed a mother had given birth during the prolonged attack.
Ghani’s government blamed the attacks on the Taliban and ISIS militants, and ordered troops to resume offensive operations.
The Taliban, which denied involvement, warned they were “fully prepared” to counter any strikes.
The aggressive posturing by both sides has threatened an already fragile peace process pushed by Washington.
In February, Washington and the Taliban agreed a deal saying all foreign forces would leave the country over the next year in return for security assurances from the Taliban.
Since it was signed, the Taliban have not claimed any major attacks in the capital and other cities, but have regularly targeted Afghan forces in the provinces.
The deal was expected to pave the way for broader talks between the Taliban and the government aimed at ending the war in the impoverished country.
Afghan political commentator Sayed Naser Musawi said this week’s violence should be taken as a “serious setback” to the peace process.
“The Afghan government is right to feel frustrated and see no peaceful intentions from the Taliban amid their intensified attacks,” he said before the Thursday attack.
Afghanistan is also grappling with a public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus.
© Agence France-Presse