Afghan police officers rush toward the site of an attack at a Kabul police… (Reuters )
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed Saturday that the United States had been in contact with the Taliban about a possible political settlement in the war here, which has dragged on for nearly a decade.
His comments came as violence continued to rage across Afghanistan: Three suicide bombers attacked a police compound in Kabul's old city Saturday, killing four security officials and five civilians. And the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said, without offering details, that two of its troops were killed in separate insurgent attacks in southern Afghanistan.
Karzai's disclosure that the U.S. was reaching out to the Taliban confirmed reports that had been circulating here for weeks.
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to split its sanctions list of Taliban and Al Qaeda figures. Karzai has long argued for a new approach to the sanctions list as a way to encourage negotiations toward the goal of an eventual peace deal.
Those Taliban leaders who participate in talks and show a willingness to reach a deal could then be taken off the list, he's argued — something that would prove more difficult if they're placed in the same category as Al Qaeda.
Saturday's attack by militants dressed in Afghan military uniforms, an increasingly common tactic, started around 1:30 p.m. in an area tightly packed with small vendors and shoppers. As the attackers approached the police compound, officers reportedly noticed one of the men acting suspiciously and shot him.
The second attacker then detonated an explosives-laden vest, killing nine, including an intelligence officer who was standing near the entrance of the compound. The blast also wounded two policemen and 10 civilians.
Taking advantage of the diversion, the third attacker then slipped into the compound and holed up in one of the buildings, where he battled police for more than an hour before he was killed.
"It was very crowded, so there could be more injured we don't know about," said Gen. Mohammed Zahir, chief criminal investigator with the Interior Ministry.
A text message identified as coming from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, and sent to reporters while the attack was underway, claimed responsibility for the incident.
The attack came as Afghanistan awaited an announcement from the Obama administration next month on how quickly it planned to draw down troops in advance of 2014, when the U.S. is expected to hand over security to the Afghans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the drawdown would be "substantial" during an interview Friday with the PBS program "NewsHour."
The expected drawdown has increased pressure to find a political settlement. Karzai said Saturday that although the U.S. and Taliban had not yet sat down for formal meetings, their representatives had made contact.
Any talks in Afghanistan would probably take years to yield an agreement, even as a U.S. pullout creates a political vacuum.
Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.