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Taliban suicide bomber kills 9 troops in eastern Afghanistan

KABUL – A suicide bomber in a stolen military Humvee targeted a base in eastern Afghanistan belonging to the country's intelligence service early on Monday, killing at least nine members of the force, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

At least 40 members of the force were wounded in the attack near the city of Ghazni, the provincial capital of Ghazni, according to Arif Noori, the spokesman for the provincial governor. Eight of the wounded were in critical condition and were transferred to the capital, Kabul, for further treatment, Noori added.

Earlier reports had seven dead but Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Afghan interior minister, confirmed the latest casualty tolls.

According to Noori, the bomber used a stolen military Humvee full of explosives, detonating it as he approached the main entrance gate to the base. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents were behind the attack in Ghazni province, where the Taliban control most of the countryside and the rural areas.

The provincial capital, also called Ghazni, briefly fell to Taliban control twice in recent years. The province has in the past been the scene of many large-scale attacks against both Afghan and NATO forces.

The attack came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing agreement, two months after both declared themselves the winner of last September’s presidential election.

The political deal would see Ghani remain president of the war-torn nation while Abdullah would lead the country’s National Reconciliation High Council.

Ghani and Abdullah held parallel inauguration ceremonies in March. They have been locked in a power struggle since the vote. The discord prompted the Trump administration to announce it would cut $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan if the two Afghan leaders did not work out their differences.

A peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, signed on Feb. 29, calls for American and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan. It was seen at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace, following decades of war.

Since the signing, the U.S. has been trying to get the Taliban and the Afghan government to begin intra-Afghan negotiations, but the political turmoil and personal acrimony between Ghani and Abdullah impeded talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with the two leaders on Sunday, saying he was pleased by their willingness to move toward intra-Afghan negotiations but “regretted the time lost."

At a press conference Monday, head of Afghan national security directorate Ahmad Zia Saraj slammed the Taliban, saying they have “never welcomed peace and are committed to continuing violence,.

Violence has continued unabated in Afghanistan. On Sunday in Ghazni, gunmen opened fire, killing five people — three civilians and two police officers — as they were traveling in the district of Jaghatu, according to Arian, the interior minister's spokesman. He blamed the Taliban for the attack.

Last Tuesday, militants stormed a maternity hospital in Kabul, killing 24 people, including mothers, nurses and two babies. The attack set off an hours-long shootout with police; the attack also left 16 wounded in the hospital, which is supported by international aid group Doctors Without Borders. No one claimed responsibility for the attack on the clinic in Dashti Barchi, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in Kabul.

Also on Tuesday, a suicide bomber targeted the funeral of a pro-government militia commander and former warlord in the eastern province of Nangarhar, killing 32 people and wounding 133 others. That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.

In a televised speech hours after the attacks, Ghani called on security forces to attack Taliban insurgents, a turn from the defensive posture the government said it maintained since the U.S.-Taliban deal.

“The Taliban have not given up fighting and killing Afghans, instead they have increased their attacks on our countrymen and public places,” Ghani said.

The Taliban said Monday's attack in Ghazni was a response to the government's recent declaration of war.