Taliban Launches Suicide Bomb Attack on Strategic City Amid Negotiations with US

A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a main square in the strategic northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday.

At least 10 people were killed in the explosion in the city's downtown, Al-Jazeera reported. The blast followed a firefight between Taliban insurgents and Afghan police that left 36 Taliban fighters dead.

The Taliban are in a bid to gain control of Kunduz, as it is located on a key highway providing access to many of the northern border provinces. Gunfire could be heard across the city on Saturday, according to the BBC, where electricity and most telephone services had been cut.

The fighting comes in the midst of historic negotiations in Doha between the Taliban and the United States, as the opponents try to agree on terms for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Western diplomats had expected an announcement by now, but progress has apparently slowed in recent days.

Shortly before the suicide bombing, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani claimed that his security forces "repelled" the coordinated Taliban assault on Kunduz amid competing claims from both sides, according to Reuters.

"The Taliban attacked Kunduz today and caused damages to civilians and their houses. They wanted to create an atmosphere of fear in the city," Ghani said in a statement. "Their attack was repelled by our brave security forces."

Kunduz province
This photograph taken on April 4, 2018 shows Afghan residents walking near a religious school in Kunduz province. (BASHIR KHAN SAFI/AFP/Getty Images)

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that Saturday's attack had resulted in the capture of several important establishments.

"The Taliban attacked Kunduz city from several directions this morning. We are in the city now capturing government buildings one after the other," he told reporters.

The suicide bombing shows that Taliban leaders "don't believe in the peace opportunity provided by the US and the government of Afghanistan," presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi alleged on Twitter on Saturday.

"On the one hand they are talking with the U., on the other hand they are attacking people's houses and villages. We will not leave their attack unanswered."

Security forces are repelling the Taliban attack on some parts of Kunduz city; their top priority is to protect the civilians. As always the Taliban have taken positions in civilian areas. #Kunduz

— Sediq Sediqqi (@SediqSediqqi) August 31, 2019

Government officials in Kunduz and Kabul said the Taliban were seeking shelter inside homes, and some of the fighters had entered the main hospital in the city.

"The city is completely empty, shops are locked, people aren't moving, and light and heavy weapons can be heard in several parts of the city," a local resident named Khaluddin told Al Jazeera.

This attack comes barely a week after a suicide bombing killed 63 people at a wedding in Kabul—although that attack was claimed by ISIS, not the Taliban.