KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan is reeling from a Taliban assault on a military base in the country's east the previous day that killed at least 65 people and wounded dozens more, most of them military personnel, according to security sources.
The attack began when a suicide bomber drove a Humvee into the main building of the NDS, the Afghan intelligence agency, in eastern Maidan Wardak province and detonated his load. The building then collapsed from the explosion, which likely contributed to the high casualty numbers. Officials say there were about 150 military personnel and others at the base at the time. The base that was is located on the outskirts of Maidan Shar, the provincial capital, about 25 miles from Kabul.
"We took about 65 bodies out of the rubble yesterday," said Mohamman Sardar, deputy head of the provincial council in the Wardak province. As recovery efforts continue, it's possible that the death toll could continue to rise. The blast was so strong that windows of civilian homes seen in the distance from the base were also shattered.
After the explosion, at least three other attackers who were following the Humvee entered the compound dressed in uniforms used by Afghan special forces, according to Wardak provincial council member Abdul Wahid Akbarzai.
The Taliban, who promptly claimed responsibility in a statement to the media just hours after the attack, later said in a separate statement that they had met again on Monday with U.S. representatives to discuss "ending the invasion of Afghanistan" in talks that would continue on Tuesday. They are meeting in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.
Last week, the Taliban threatened to walk away from the talks, accusing Washington of seeking to "expand the agenda" — presumably a reference to American demands that the insurgents hold direct talks with the Kabul government.
The simultaneousness of the events — the deadly attack, one of the worst Taliban assaults on Afghan forces in recent years — and the Qatar meeting that was meant to pave way for talks aimed at resolving Afghanistan's 17-year war, substantially heightens tensions and complicates the possibility of peace negotiations moving forward.
The pro-government militia that was hit had been responsible for and highly effective in securing the province, especially two important highways linking Kabul with the provinces of Kandahar, Maidan Wardak and Bamyan.
"It is a big loss," council head Akhtar Mohammad Tahiri said. "The NDS forces are better trained and equipped than the Afghan police and army soldiers who have been dying in record numbers."
A short statement from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office strongly condemned Monday's attack, saying the "enemy had carried out a terrorist attack against the intelligence agency's personnel, killed and wounded a number of honest sons of this homeland who were defending their country and protecting their people." Ghani also ordered an investigation, the statement added.
It was not known how many of the dead were members of the militia in training and how many were military and intelligence officers and instructors.
Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy interior minister and a military analyst, said the attack was a "tragedy and a big loss to the Afghan security forces."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.