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In Afghanistan, the Taliban uses violence as leverage during peace negotiations

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, 16 people died in a car bomb Monday night. A compound housing mostly international workers was the target, and the Taliban claimed responsibility even as they participate in peace talks with the U.S. Why has there been a “massive uptick in violence” recently, and what might the tentative peace deal include? Special correspondent Jane Ferguson joins Judy Woodruff.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, 16 people died in a car bomb explosion last night. The target was the Green Village, a compound housing mainly international workers.

    Today, Afghans protested outside the compound, demonstrating against the foreign presence in their country. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, even as they participate in peace talks with the United States.

    "NewsHour" special correspondent Jane Ferguson is on assignment in Afghanistan. She has been talking to civilians and officials in Kabul today. And she joins us now.

    Hello, Jane.

    How significant is it, do you think, that this attack took place just as we are told the Taliban and the U.S. are making progress on this potential peace deal?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Hi, Judy.

    It's no coincidence that we have seen a massive uptick in violence in recent weeks and, indeed, recent days here. There are peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, but the Taliban had wanted to maintain pressure and to remind both the United States and the Afghan government here in Kabul of their strength.

    We have seen shows of strength throughout the weekend while those talks were right down to the 11th hour. Two provincial capitals, both Kunduz and Puli Khumri, both saw assaults by the Taliban, and then, of course, yesterday's enormous bombing.

    It has been a controversy around — surrounding these talks that they go on while there isn't actually a cease-fire at this time. But we have seen a breakthrough, with the U.S. special envoy to those talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, arriving here to tell the Afghan people that there has been, in principle, an agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Jane, how much is actually known about what is in this deal, the details?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It's extremely murky at this stage.

    The Afghan people don't know for sure what is going to happen. And it will massively affect their future.

    But Khalilzad did go on television. He went on national Afghan television, on TOLO TV, yesterday, and he gave away some details of the proposed agreement. Of course, he reminded everybody that it isn't official until President Trump signs it himself.

    But he said that, initially, there would be a 5,000-troop drawdown. And that's from 14,000 American troops — and that effectively five U.S. bases would be vacated. And that's really the start of — what we're starting to see as a drawdown.

    But there are still many, many questions about what's not being mentioned about what could be in this deal, such as whether or not there will be any kind of cease-fire. He said that there would be a reduction in violence, but specifically didn't use the word cease-fire.

    So there is a huge amount of uncertainty here in Kabul until people really find out what is in the proposed agreement and whether or not it will become the final text.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jane, finally, what about public attitudes? You say there is uncertainty. What is the public saying to you, people saying to you about the fact that this could actually happen?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It depends very much so, Judy, on who you're talking to.

    Now, you pointed out earlier there that there were riots after that booming yesterday. And they were very much so angry demonstrations against a Western presence in that part of Kabul. And that's because people have seen so much bloodshed.

    Of course, we must remember that thousands of American lives have been lost in this war, but many more thousands of Afghan lives have been lost. And so there is a sense of anger whenever the Taliban are targeting Westerners and Afghans die.

    We have seen a huge uptick in Afghan civilian deaths just in the last few weeks and months, with some quite shocking violence. So, people here really, really want peace. They want an end to this war.

    But there is a severe fear, there is a very real fear that any American withdrawal — and this is particularly strong whenever you're talking to officials in the government here — could be too hasty.

    People want to make sure that the Americans don't leave in a way that could cause the Afghan government to collapse or could endanger the Afghan security forces that the Americans and their partners here have spent so much time and energy and money building up.

    So there's a sense that, of course they want a deal and they want an end to this war, but they want to make sure it's one that's done responsibly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hard to believe the U.S. has been there now almost 18 years.

    Jane Ferguson, reporting from Kabul, thank you, Jane.

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