Taliban Attack U.S. Base in Afghanistan as Negotiators Talk Peace

At least two civilians were killed and 73 others wounded in a car bombing and subsequent assault at Bagram Air Base.

Afghan security forces on Wednesday inspected the site of an attack at Bagram Air Base, the largest United States military base in Afghanistan.
Afghan security forces on Wednesday inspected the site of an attack at Bagram Air Base, the largest United States military base in Afghanistan.Credit...Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

By Fahim Abed and

KABUL, Afghanistan — As their negotiators resumed peace talks with American diplomats, Taliban militants on Wednesday set off a car bomb and penetrated a medical facility attached to Bagram Air Base, the largest United States military base in Afghanistan, killing at least two people and wounding at least 73, officials said.

The daring attack on the base — which President Trump visited recently — was still going nearly 10 hours after the initial explosion, and it was bound to complicate the negotiations. After a year of talks, the two sides had been on the verge of announcing an agreement in September when President Trump called off the negotiations, citing a Taliban bombing that killed an American, a NATO soldier and nearly a dozen Afghans.

In the attack on Wednesday, a vehicle laden with explosives targeted the southern part of the base, the site of a medical facility that was under construction. Several attackers then entered the base, engaging in a firefight with Afghan and coalition forces, Afghan officials said.

Soon after the initial attack, a spokesman for the American-led NATO mission said the assault had been repelled. But later Wednesday, nearly 10 hours after the first explosion, the spokesman said that some fighters were still holed up in the medical facility. He said the medical facility had been badly damaged, but he insisted the air base defenses were not breached.

Reports about casualties to coalition forces were conflicting. Initially, the NATO mission’s spokesman said coalition forces had suffered no casualties. In a later update, he said “some service members have been evaluated for minor injuries as a result of the initial attack,” but that there were no major injuries. The Georgian Defense Ministry said that five Georgian soldiers who are part of the coalition had suffered minor injuries.

Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said two civilians were killed and at least 73 others were wounded. Other officials put the number of wounded at 80.

“Houses were damaged as far as 200 meters from the scene of the explosion,” Mr. Rahimi said. “Three attackers were gunned down, and one of them was arrested. The clearance operation continues to eliminate the remaining attackers.”

Talks between the chief American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban negotiators have been underway in recent days in Qatar after they were restarted by Mr. Trump in November. Officials say that both sides are talking about ways to decrease violence, reach a possible cease-fire and pave the way for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Although both sides have engaged in violence across Afghanistan during this year’s negotiations, it was an increase in Taliban attacks just before an expected announcement of a peace agreement deal that President Trump cited for calling off the peace talks. During the three-month halt in talks, Western diplomats hoped the Taliban would return to the table with a realization that they had pushed their hand too far with the violence.

Wednesday’s attack, during the fifth day of the new talks, could cast doubt on the group’s intentions and raise new concerns that the Taliban’s political wing and the military side might not agree on how to end the 18-year conflict.