Afghanistan: At least 12 dead in Taliban attack on military base

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(CNN) — At least 12 members of the Afghan military were killed and another 28 injured when the Taliban carried out a suicide attack on a military base in the central province of Maidan Wardak, authorities said.

The terror group attempted to detonate two car bombs near the base, one of which went off, according to a statement from the provincial media office. Three militants were killed in the incident.

The Taliban claimed responsibility in a message sent to members of the media.

The assault comes after one of the more deadly years in recent memory in Afghanistan, with a series of brazen attacks by the Taliban signaling that the group is still operating from a position of strength.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the situation as a "stalemate" in November. "They are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say."

The attack, Monday, came hours before the Afghan government indicated they had begun diplomatic negotiations with the United States. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that peace talks involving U.S. representatives began in Qatar Monday and would continue Tuesday.

The U.S. has not publicly confirmed the talks. The State Department's special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is just wrapping up a trip to Asia, during which he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"We agreed military pressure is essential while we prepare to engage in negotiations for peace," he said.

"The U.S. and our partners are proud of our longstanding support to Afghan security forces and will continue to do our part to back them."

Despite these diplomatic developments, violence has not abated. At least 47 were killed in a seven-hour assault on a government building in the capital of Kabul in late December, and another five died when assailants attacked a police station in Herat earlier this month.

The bouts of violence have analysts worried that the security situation in Afghanistan could get worse ahead of this year's presidential elections in July.

The unrest has also reignited concerned about the uncertainty regarding the future of U.S. forces in the country. Several U.S. defense officials told CNN late last year that President Donald Trump wants to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Two administration officials told CNN that Trump wants the plans made in hopes he could announce the reduction in his State of the Union speech, which is traditionally at the end of January or early February.

The U.S. military was ordered to begin planning to withdraw about half the troops in Afghanistan, a U.S. defense official with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN in December.

John Allen, a retired four-star general who previously commanded the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, said removing troops from Afghanistan could pose a "real crisis."

"Pulling out right now -- just the announcement -- would create chaos within the strategy," Gen. Allen said.

"We've got coalition obligations there. The Afghan people have depended on us for some period of time to help them to be prepared to ultimately to deal with the Taliban over a long period, to make peace, to create a credible system of government, to get the economy on its feet again."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Afghanistan: At least 12 dead in Taliban attack on military base."