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Death toll in Afghanistan attack rises to 16

Death toll in Afghanistan attack rises to 16
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At least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack early Wednesday on a construction company in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, an official said, the latest bloody assault in the wartorn country

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KABUL: At least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack early Wednesday on a construction company in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, an official said, the latest bloody assault in the war-torn country.

Provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said: “Sixteen employees of the company have been killed and nine more injured”.

No other officials could immediately verify the toll.

The bombings come as US 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", US 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.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an exchange with high school students in Iowa he hoped sufficient gains would be made for him to be able to take a trip to help advance the negotiations "in a couple weeks".

The continuation of the talks follows a major attack on a joint US-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 swathes 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.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his eagerness to end America's involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 US troops are still deployed.

Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.

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