- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2019

Taliban militants in carried out a brutal attack on an Afghan police training facility outside Kabul Monday, killing more than 100 members of Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed security forces, according to local officials.

The attack, which comes as the Trump administration’s pursuit of peace talks with the insurgent group have broken down, was among the worst in recent months to rock Afghanistan.

“We have information that 126 people have been killed in the explosion inside the military training center, eight special commandos are among the dead,” a senior official from the Afghan Defense Ministry told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon did not immediately comment on the assault, the details of which could not be independently verified from Washington.

According to Reuters, the Afghan Defense Ministry official said the attack began Monday morning when militants rammed a car full explosives through a military checkpoint and detonated the vehicle inside the campus of the National Directorate of Security forces training center in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak province, which is situated southwest of Kabul.

Two gunmen entered the campus right after the explosion and shot at many Afghan soldiers before being gunned down during the clashes, Reuters reported. The news agency cited Afghan Defense Ministry officials as saying the Taliban used U.S.-made armored Humvee vehicles captured from Afghan forces as a car bomb in order to breach the military fortifications.

The incident came days after U.S. officials identified the first American combat casualty suffered in Afghanistan in 2019. On Friday, the Pentagon identified Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock as having been wounded this month when his unit came under fire during a counterterrorism operation in western Afghanistan’s Badghis province near Iran.

A Pentagon statement said Sgt. Meddock, a native of Spearman, Texas, was evacuated to U.S. military medical facilities in Landstuhl, Germany, where he died of his injuries.

The latest developments come as the Trump administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban and end the longest war in U.S. history have hit significant roadblocks. Taliban representatives abruptly canceled talks last week that had been scheduled to take place in Qatar with U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

The pursuit of a peace deal has broken down since reports emerged last month that President Trump had ordered the Pentagon to begin planning for a possible withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan — roughly half the total American force stationed there.

A recent Pentagon assessment of the 17-year conflict claimed recent gains made against the Taliban by U.S. and Afghan forces could be lost if Washington presses ahead with plans to cut the number of American troops.

In its annual assessment of the Afghan war, Defense Department analysts also suggested any let up in pressure on the Taliban from Afghan forces, and their American and NATO counterparts, could derail fragile efforts to get peace talks with the group off the ground.

• Carlo Muñoz contributed to this report.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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