At least 14 people were killed and 145 wounded in a massive Taliban bomb blast Wednesday in Kabul, even as insurgents appear to be closing in on an peace deal with the United States.
The bloodshed in Afghanistan’s capital came during an ongoing surge in attacks across the country, where more than 1,500 people were killed or wounded last month alone, according to the UN.
A huge plume of black smoke rose over western Kabul following a massive explosion at the entrance to a police compound at around 9:00 am.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said a car bomb caused the explosion, but the Islamist extremist Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said it was a much larger truck bomb. An Afghan security official also told AFP it was a truck bomb.
Images on social media showed toppled blast walls surrounding several largely destroyed buildings.
Afghan authorities said at least 10 civilians and four police officers had been killed. Another 145 people, including 92 civilians, were wounded.
“As the air cleared, I saw several women crying, desperately looking for their husbands or children near the blast site,” local journalist Zakeria Hasani, who lives near the police station, told AFP.
Shopkeeper Ahmad Saleh said his store windows had blown out, sending glass flying.
“My head is spinning and still I don’t know what has happened but the windows of about 20 shops around one kilometre from the blast site are broken,” he said.
The US and the Taliban are meeting in Doha this week for an eighth round of talks aimed at striking a peace deal that would slash the American military presence in Afghanistan.
A deal between the two sides could pave the way for direct talks between the government of President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban, although the insurgents view his administration as illegitimate.
Washington’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who on Monday cited “excellent progress” in the talks, condemned the “indiscriminate” attack on civilians.
“The focus should be on immediately reducing violence as we move closer to intra-Afghan negotiations that will produce a political roadmap and a permanent ceasefire,” he said on Twitter.
The attack came after the Taliban warned Afghans on Tuesday to keep away from public gatherings ahead of the presidential election planned for September 28.
The Taliban ordered their fighters to “stand against” the polls.
Previous elections have been rocked by frequent attacks by militants trying to undermine Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.
More than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict in July, according to the United Nations – the highest monthly toll so far this year and the worst single month since May 2017.
The blast was not the only violence in the Afghan capital in the prior 24 hours.
Afghan commandos stormed three Islamic State group houses in Kabul, officials said, leaving two IS fighters and three Afghan commandos dead.
The houses were being used as bomb factories, the Afghan intelligence service said in a statement about the raids.
Despite non-stop strikes from the US and Afghan forces, the IS group has maintained a persistent presence in Afghanistan since 2015.
“A lot of explosives, suicide vests, arms and technical tools for making car bombs and mines were seized,” the statement read.
In Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan, authorities said they stopped an attack on a security forces convoy.
Troops fired a rocket-propelled grenade to destroy an explosives-packed Humvee driving toward the convoy, the army said.
On Tuesday, at least five people were killed and seven wounded in Kabul when a vehicle carrying workers from the counter-narcotics directorate was bombed, the interior ministry said.
Deputy Interior Minister General Khoshal Sadat said 4,769 Taliban fighters had been killed since they announced their spring offensive in April.
The Afghan military does not reveal how many of its troops have been killed, but numbers are thought to be several thousand per year.
Still, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Afghan security forces are foiling about seven in 10 planned Taliban attacks.
“To retaliate they are attacking civilian places in the cities,” Sediqqi said.
The violence comes as Afghans prepare to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday next week.
– Asia Times contributors