Multiple blasts rattled eastern Afghanistan’s Jalalabad early Wednesday, March 6 with more than a dozen deaths reported as militants appeared to target a private company near the city’s airport.
“Two attackers detonated their vests, and two more were gunned down by security forces,” provincial spokesperson Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
Khogyani said: “Sixteen employees of the company have been killed and nine more injured.”
“All five attackers have been killed by security forces,” he said.
Nangarhar provincial council member Ajmal Omar put the death toll slightly higher, saying 18 people had been killed with three of the nine injured in a critical condition.
Health workers pored over the injured in a nearby hospital, with bloody bandages covering their wounds.
Khogyani added that a clearance operation was ongoing with security defusing two suicide vests, a car bomb, and multiple mines planted by the attackers.
“Armed suicide bombers attacked and managed to enter the building of a private construction company early this morning,” said Nangarhar Provincial council member Zabihullah Zmarai.
“A number of civilian workers of the company have been killed,” he added.
The Taliban denied involvement, the New York Times reported, naming the company as Entire Builders and Engineers.
Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq propaganda channel.
Both the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan province are active in Nangarhar province.
The bombings come as U.S. and Taliban negotiations continue to hold ongoing peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.
Despite a two-day break before the weekend, negotiations continue on “a daily basis right now and progress is being made,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told journalists Tuesday.
“These discussions are ongoing and what we’re focusing on are the four interconnected issues that are going to compose any future agreement,” Palladino said – listing them as “terrorism,” “troop withdrawal,” “intra-Afghan dialogue” and “ceasefire.”
The continuation of the talks follows a major attack on a joint U.S.-Afghan base in southwestern Afghanistan’s Helmand province last week, with at least 23 security forces killed in the hours-long assault on one of the largest military installations in the country.
Heavy snowfall across large parts of Afghanistan has led to a sharp reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country’s south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.
Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.
This story was updated throughout the day on March 6 with additional information and at 0710 GMT on March 7 with the ISIS claim of responsibility.
With reporting from AFP