KABUL: A Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car in Kabul, killing at least six people near a compound where a controversial security pact between Afghanistan and the United States (US) will be debated, officials said on Sunday.
Another 22 were injured when the vehicle blew up about 150 meters from a giant tent, which will on Thursday host a meeting of elders on the future of US troops in the country after a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition pulls out in 2014.
“Initial information shows that unfortunately four civilians, one police and one soldier have been killed in today’s attack,” said Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
“Twenty-two more, the majority of whom are civilians, have been injured,” he added, noting that the toll may rise.
The Taliban claimed the attack later in the evening. The insurgent group had denounced the assembly, known as a “Loya Jirga,” and warned its members not to participate.
“No doubt the enemy will try its best to target the jirga, but I can say with confidence that our security forces are on high alert and will foil the enemy’s desperate effort,” said Sediqqi.
According to a statement issued by the interior ministry, the bomber was being pursued by security forces shortly before the explosion.
“The attacker driving a vehicle had been identified and was being pursued by security forces. He detonated himself after police opened fire on his vehicle.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a statement condemned the attack, blaming it on the “enemies of peace and progress,” a term usually interpreted as a reference to the Taliban insurgents.
Earlier in the day, the president had called on the Taliban and their allies to join the assembly, which is expected to include 2,500 tribal elders and civil leaders from around the country.
“We invite them, please come to this national jirga of Afghanistan, raise your voice, raise your objection . . . and share your views,” he told a news conference in Kabul.
The draft Bilateral Security Agreement was hammered out in Kabul last month during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
But he left without a final deal as Karzai said only a jirga had the authority to decide the contentious issues.
These include a US demand to retain legal jurisdiction over its troops in Afghanistan, which would give them immunity from Afghan law. The request emerged as the main sticking point after Kerry’s visit.
The Taliban, whose government was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001, has rejected the jirga and warned members that they would be punished as “traitors” if they endorsed the deal.
Hezb-e-Islami, a Taliban affiliate, has also refused to send members to jirga, calling it “legalising the US occupation”.
If the agreement is passed by both the jirga and parliament, between 5,000 and 10,000 US troops would stay in Afghanistan to help fight al-Qaeda remnants and train the national army.
Washington had been pushing for the agreement to be signed by the end of October to allow the US-led NATO coalition to plan the withdrawal of its 75,000 combat troops by December 2014.
The collapse of a similar security agreement with Iraq in 2011 led to the US pulling all its troops out of the country, which is currently suffering its worst sectarian violence since 2008.