U.S. defense officials say six American soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack targeting NATO troops near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the biggest U.S. military facility in the war-torn country.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity about what was one of the deadliest attacks on foreign soldiers in the country this year.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a statement expressing "deep regret" over the fatalities, which he attributed to a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on their patrol outside the facility.
"It serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan," he said. "Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of these brave Americans who died in service to this vital mission, and our thoughts remain with all of our troops serving overseas during this holiday season so that we may have peace and security at home."
Earlier, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, Colonel Michael Lawhorn, described the incident to VOA.
“I can confirm that six Resolute Support service members died as a result of a vehicle-born improvised explosive device attack in Bagram, Afghanistan at approximately 1:30 p.m. [local time] In addition three Resolute Support members were also injured in the attack," said Lawhorn.
He added the attack is under investigation.
Taliban claims attack
The Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility and saying at least 19 people were killed, mostly U.S. soldiers, though the insurgent group is notorious for exaggerating the casualty figures.
In a statement sent to journalists, a Taliban spokesman said a suicide bomber riding a motorbike carried out the attack.
Bagram Air Base is located at around 40-kilometers north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. It is one of several air bases for some 10,000 American soldiers engaged in training and advising local security forces in addition to conducting counter-terrorism operations.
Monday's attack comes nearly two weeks after a group of heavily armed Taliban suicide bombers stormed a southern Kandahar air base, also housing U.S. soldiers. he siege lasted for more than 29 hours in which more than 54 people, mostly Afghan civilians were killed.
The Taliban later said the assault was part of its plans to mount attacks on all U.S.-controlled bases in Afghanistan.
The Islamist insurgency, meanwhile, has stepped up attacks in its bid to seize control of the southern Helmand province, though Afghan officials claimed to have reversed the Taliban gains in Monday's counter attacks. But it is not possible verify either claim because of the volatile security situation in the poppy-growing Afghan province for the past several months.
UN calling for peaceful settlement
Nicolas Haysom, with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), again urged the Taliban Monday to end its violent campaign and respond to the Afghan government's offer of peace talks.
He made the remarks while briefing the U.N. Security Council on the latest situation in Afghanistan.
“I call upon the Taliban, who have not yet committed to entering into a peace process, to reciprocate the government’s commitment by themselves stepping forward to directly engage with the government,” Haysom said.
He praised efforts by countries such as Pakistan, the U.S. and China for making renewed efforts to promote direct talks between the government and the Taliban.
The UNAMA chief said the conflict is badly hurting civilians and impeding both political and economic progress in Afghanistan.
“There is no other way for insurgent groups to demonstrate a commitment to the welfare and prosperity of their fellow citizens than to search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict," he said. "The reliance on violent conflict to achieve political ends places a question mark other their intentions."