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Suicide bomber kills six at Afghan defense university

BEV SHILLING/STARS AND STRIPES

By PAMELA CONSTABLE AND AMIE FERRIS-ROTMAN | The Washington Post | Published: May 30, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle filled with explosives Thursday afternoon outside the national military academy here, killing at least six people and wounding 16 others, defense and interior ministry officials said.

The vehicle exploded as cadets at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University were leaving the hillside campus overlooking the capital for their weekly two-day break. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack came after three days of Afghan talks in Moscow ended without any significant progress in ending the war, or even the hoped-for announcement of a cease-fire at the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week. Last June, a three-day truce raised nationwide hopes for a war settlement.

In the talks, a 14-member Taliban delegation headed by Abdul Ghani Baradar held several lengthy, closed-door meetings with Afghan power brokers. They did not include representatives of the elected Kabul government, which the insurgents view as an American puppet, although members of a government-appointed peace council attended the conference.

The participants included former president Hamid Karzai, former national security adviser Hanif Atmar a key contender challenging President Ashraf Ghani in presidential elections slated for September and Atta Mohammad Noor, a former provincial governor and influential figure.

Noor publicly appealed to the Taliban on Tuesday, when the conference opened, to propose a cease-fire before it ended. But on Thursday, a Taliban spokesman said no truce would be offered, although progress had been made.

"We discussed the cease-fire and we will continue this discussion," the spokesman, Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, told journalists. "We are satisfied with how negotiations went." The conference marked the second such event hosted by Moscow, which brought together Taliban and Afghan figures in February.

A brief closing joint statement, in Pashto, said both sides had discussed a range of issues in the peace talks, including the pullout of foreign troops, the "consolidation of the Islamic system," and women's rights. It said agreement was reached on some issues but that others "needed further debate."

Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of its political office, spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about the importance of reaching a peace deal. He indicated that months of effort to end the 18-year war may be advancing despite continued aggressive attacks by the insurgents and the lack of progress in months of parallel U. S-Taliban talks.

"The Islamic Emirate is firmly committed to peace, but the first step is to remove obstacles and end the occupation of Afghanistan," he said, using the Taliban's formal name.

The busiest figure at the conference, though, was Karzai, who was widely seen as the chief broker between the Taliban and the Afghan political figures attending. There were numerous group photo-ops, with Karzai in the center, flanked by Taliban and Afghan politicians on either side.

"It was very, very positive. We had good discussions," Karzai said as the meeting ended. "We are leaving very, very happy."

By late Thursday, neither the Taliban nor the Islamic State had claimed responsibility for the bombing at the military academy, which has previously been attacked by both groups since it opened in 2014 soon after the death of Mohammad Marshal Fahim, a former vice president and anti-Taliban militia leader.

In August of that year, an apparent insider attack claimed by the Taliban killed U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranking U.S. officer to die in the Afghan and Iraq wars. He was shot by a man in military uniform during a visit by U.S. and NATO generals to the facility.

In January of last year, Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding the academy in an early-morning assault, killing 11 troops and wounding 16. Officials said a suicide bomber struck the security unit, then other armed militants opened fire on them.

In October, a suicide bomber on foot approached the walled campus as Afghan officers were leaving, and detonated his vest, killing 15. The Taliban claimed that attack.

The Washington Post's Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.

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