At Least Seven Killed In Kabul Car Bomb Blast

Security personnel and investigators gather at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on November 13, 2019. STR / AFP

 

At least seven people were killed and seven wounded when a car bomb detonated during Kabul’s busy morning rush hour Wednesday, an interior ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said the bomb had gone off in a neighbourhood which is near the interior ministry and north of Kabul airport.

He said the dead were all civilians. “This is the initial information, more details later,” he added.

A source at the interior ministry said the blast was detonated by a suicide bomber in the car, and that it had targeted a convoy of government vehicles on a main road.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in Kabul, which is one of the deadliest places in the war-torn country for civilians.

The blast came one day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that Kabul would release three high-ranking Taliban prisoners in an apparent prisoner swap with Western hostages who were kidnapped by the insurgents in 2016.

The three Taliban prisoners include Anas Haqqani, who was seized in 2014 and whose older brother is the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network, a notorious Taliban affiliate.

Ghani did not specify the fate of the Western hostages — an Australian and an American, both professors at the American University in Kabul — and it was not clear when or where they would be freed.

The two, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, were kidnapped in August 2016 from the heart of Kabul.

They later appeared looking haggard in a Taliban hostage video, with the insurgents going on to say that King was in poor health.

Ghani noted in his speech that “their health has been deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists”.

He also did not state when or where the Taliban prisoners would be freed.

But he said that he hoped the decision would help “pave the way” for the start of unofficial direct talks between his government and the Taliban, who have long refused to negotiate with the administration in Kabul.

Direct talks

Over the past year the US and the Taliban had been holding direct talks seeking a deal that would bring the insurgents to the table for peace talks with Kabul, and allow the US to begin withdrawing troops.

But President Donald Trump abruptly ended the negotiations in September, citing continued Taliban violence.

Most experts agree that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, and that talks will have to restart again eventually.

Until then, however, civilians continue to pay a disproportionate price in the long-running and brutal war.

Last month, the United Nations released a report saying an “unprecedented” number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September this year.

The figures — 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 — represent a 42 percent increase over the same period last year.

The UN laid most of the blame at the feet of “anti-government elements” such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out an insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.

At Least 20 Wounded, Many Feared Dead In Kabul Wedding Blast

File photo of an explosion in Kabul.

 

At least 20 people were wounded in a blast at a Kabul wedding late Saturday, a local hospital said, while a witness told AFP he had seen many dead bodies at the scene.

The explosion came just as the US and the Taliban are widely expected to sign off on a deal that would see American troops begin to depart Afghanistan in return for various security assurances from the insurgents.

“#Kabul #Afghanistan explosion in a hotel during a wedding party, about 20 patients arrived up to now at our hospital #masscasualty,” the Italian-run Emergency hospital of Kabul said on Twitter.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast occurred in a west Kabul wedding hall around 10:40 pm (1810 GMT).

He shared on Facebook photos showing several apparent bodies inside a dining area.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.

Mohammad Farhag, who had been at the wedding, said he had been in the women’s section when he heard a huge blast in the men’s area.

“Everyone ran outside shouting and crying,” he said.

“For about 20 minutes the hall was full of smoke. Almost everyone in the men’s section is either dead or wounded. Now, two hours after the blast, they are still taking bodies out of the hall.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Little Security

Government spokesman Feroz Bashari said the blast was “a clear sign that terrorists can’t see Afghans express happiness.”

“You can’t make them bow by killing them. The perpetrators of tonight’s attack shall be held responsible,” he wrote on Twitter.

Insurgents have periodically struck Afghan weddings, which are seen as easy targets because they frequently lack rigorous security precautions.

On July 12, at least six people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a wedding ceremony in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The Islamic State group, which has a growing footprint in the region, claimed the blast.

Expectations are rising for a deal in which the US would start withdrawing its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan after a two-decade war that has turned into a stalemate.

US President Donald Trump has said since the start of his presidency that he wants troops out of the country where Washington has spent more than $1 trillion on military operations and reconstruction since 2001.

In return for the US departure, the Taliban would commit to various security guarantees, including that the Islamist hardliners who long harboured Al-Qaeda would not allow Afghanistan to once again become a jihadist safe haven.

On Friday, Ahmadullah Azkhundzada, brother of Afghan Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, was among four people killed in a blast at a mosque in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan, a senior official with the provincial government said.

Taliban Says US ‘Will Be Harmed More Than Anyone’ After Trump Halts Talks

 

The Taliban said the US “will be harmed more than anyone” but left the door open for future negotiations Sunday after President Donald Trump abruptly announced that he had called off year-long talks to end America’s longest war.

“We still… believe that the American side will come back to this position… Our fight for the past 18 years should have proven to the Americans that we will not be satisfied until we witness the complete end of the occupation,” the group said in a statement released on Twitter by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The statement said the insurgents had “finalised” a deal with the US that had been expected to allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops in exchange for security promises from the Taliban.

It added that both sides had been preparing for the deal to be announced and signed when Trump tweeted late Saturday that he had “called off peace negotiations”.

Trump had cited a Taliban attack in Kabul on Thursday which killed 12 people including a US soldier as his reason for calling off the talks, including a secret meeting with the insurgents at Camp David in Maryland planned for this weekend.

But the Taliban dismissed his reasoning in their statement, saying it showed “neither experience nor patience”, and accused the US of killing “hundreds of Afghans” in the fighting.

“Americans will be harmed more than any other,” by Trump’s decision, the statement said, adding that the US’s “credibility will be harmed, their anti-peace stance will become more visible to the world, their casualties and financial losses will increase, and the US role in international political interaction will be discredited even further.”

In Bombshell, Trump Calls Off Secret Summit, Talks With Taliban

US President Donald Trump. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s leader, abruptly slamming the door on a year of diplomacy to end America’s longest war.

In a Saturday evening bombshell, Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, grisly violence made them untrustworthy partners.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump said in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.

A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in the bombing Thursday in Kabul — the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the militants’ regime.

Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.

“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” said International Crisis Group’s Asia director Laurel Miller, who earlier served as the US special representative on Afghanistan.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird.”

“But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.

Deal unpopular in Kabul

The announcement appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a painstaking diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.

Khalilzad had earlier said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.

According to parts of the draft deal made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan next year.

The insurgents in turn would renounce Al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Afghanistan’s internationally recognized president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.

“The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace,” said a statement from Ghani’s office Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement.

Question mark on troops

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

The decision comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections, an unwieldy exercise even in more stable times. The Afghan government said it “insists” the polls should go ahead in its statement Sunday.

Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.

Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.

The Taliban have shown no signs of letting up on violence. Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s bombing in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a suicide bomber had killed “foreign invaders.”

“Since the Taliban were flexing muscles on the ground, Americans also showed them they have a say politically,” analyst Ahmad Saeedi said — adding that he expects talks to resume again.

Trump has walked away from high-stakes talks before. In February, his aides pressed him not to accept a deal in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — another individual whom it would have long been unthinkable for a US president to meet.

But Trump soon made clear that he wanted to keep talking, calling Kim a friend, and arranged to meet him in June as the US leader visited the Korean peninsula.

Taliban Kill At Least Five People In ‘Horrifying’ Attack In Kabul

 

The Taliban killed at least five people in a fresh bombing in Kabul on Thursday in yet another horrific attack on the Afghan capital as the US and the insurgents negotiate a deal to see American troops leave the country.

The blast shook Shash Darak, a heavily fortified area adjacent to the Green Zone and home to several important complexes including the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service.

The morning attack was also close to where the Islamic State group killed nine journalists in a blast in April last year, including AFP chief photographer Shah Marai.

Farid Ahmad Karimi, general manager at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital close to the bomb site, told AFP that five bodies and 25 wounded people had been brought into the facility.

“There are both civilians and security personal among dead and wounded. Five of the wounded are women,” Karimi said.

On Twitter, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying a “martyrdom seeker” — suicide bomber — had triggered the car bomb.

Massoud Zazai, who owns a photo studio across the street from the blast site, said he was in his shop when the explosion happened.

“I fell off my chair and it got dark inside the shop because of smoke and dust,” Zazai told AFP.

“I went out to the scene moments after the attack, the side of the road was littered with debris and bodies.”

Through the smoke, Zazai said he could hear injured people crying and calling for their mothers and brothers.

“I saw at least five very badly injured, one was covered in blood and not moving. It was horrifying.”

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast had been caused by a car bomb at about 10:10 am (0540 GMT).

Growing unease

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed in a Taliban attack on a residential area in east Kabul.

The capital has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the Taliban reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the Pentagon pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.

But there is increasing unease about the deal, with Afghans fearing it will lead to a return of the Taliban to power, and a growing chorus of US lawmakers and officials expressing doubts.

According to parts of the deal made public so far, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of its 13,000 or so troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year, provided the Taliban hew to their security pledges.

The insurgents have said they will renounce Al-Qaeda, fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

On Wednesday, the Afghan government expressed doubts about the prospective deal, saying officials need more information about the risks it poses.

Even as negotiations for an accord have entered what are widely considered to be the final stages, violence has surged across Afghanistan.

On Saturday, the Taliban attempted to seize the provincial capital of Kunduz in the north and sporadic fighting has continued on the outskirts all week, while on Sunday, insurgents launched an operation in the city of Pul-e Khumri, the capital of neighbouring Baghlan province.

Deadliest Attacks On Kabul

Bomb Blast In Kabul
Bomb Blast In Kabul

 

Saturday’s suicide attack targeting wedding celebrations in Kabul is one of the deadliest in Afghanistan’s nearly 18-year-old war against the Taliban.

Here is a look at some of the worst incidents in the capital since 2008:

– 2019 –
– August 17: An Islamic State suicide bombing at a packed wedding hall kills at least 80 and wounds more than 100.

– 2018 –
– December 24: An hours-long bomb and gun attack on a Kabul government compound kills at least 43 people. The Taliban denies responsibility.

– November 20: A suicide bomber blows himself up among religious scholars inside a wedding hall in the capital, killing at least 55 people. The attack is unclaimed.

– April 22: An Islamic State bomber kills 57 people, all civilians, outside a voter registration centre amid preparations for legislative elections.

– January 27: An ambulance packed with explosives detonates in a crowded street in the heart of the city, killing 103 people, according to an official toll. The attack, which kills many police officers, is claimed by the Taliban.

– 2017 –
– October 20: A suicide attack during Friday evening prayers at a Kabul Shiite mosque sees 56 people killed and 55 wounded. The IS claims responsibility.

– May 31: More than 150 are killed and 400 wounded when a massive truck bomb rips through the city’s diplomatic quarter during rush hour. The attack, which is not claimed, is the deadliest in the capital since 2001.

– March 8: Gunmen disguised as doctors storm Afghanistan’s largest military hospital in a six-hour attack. The official death toll is 50 but security sources and survivors say it exceeded 100. The attack is claimed by the IS.

– 2016 –
– July 23: Twin explosions rip through crowds of Shiite Hazaras, killing at least 84 people. It marks the first major IS assault on the capital.

– April 19: A truck bomb followed by a shootout leaves 64 people dead and nearly 350 injured in central Kabul in a Taliban-claimed attack.

– 2011 –
– December 6: An attack targeting the Shiite minority on the holy day of Ashura kills 80 people. The Taliban denies responsibility.

– 2008 –
– July 7: 60 people, including two diplomats and two Indian guards are killed in a suicide car bombing on the Indian embassy in the capital. The Taliban say they were not involved.

Numerous attacks have been carried out in the rest of Afghanistan. In the most deadly, 140 people, including more than 50 auxiliary police officers, are killed in the southern city of Kandahar in February 2008.

Suicide Bomber Kills 63 At Wedding In Kabul

Afghan men gather in a wedding hall after a deadly bomb blast in Kabul on August 18, 2019. More than 60 people were killed and scores wounded in an explosion targeting a wedding in the Afghan capital./AFP

 

Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.

The blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.

The groom, who only gave his name as Mirwais, recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack “changed my happiness to sorrow”, Mirwais told local TV station Tolo News.

READ ALSO: Massive Blast Hits Kabul Wedding, At Least 20 Wounded

“My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting,” he said.

“I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again.”

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured. “Among the wounded are women and children,” Rahimi said. Earlier he stated that the blast was caused by a suicide bomber.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.

“The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened,” recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.

“Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones,” he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

In the aftermath, images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water.

The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Mohammad Farhag told AFP he was in the women’s section when he heard a huge blast in the men’s area.

“Everyone ran outside shouting and crying,” he said.

“For about 20 minutes the hall was full of smoke. Almost everyone in the men’s section is either dead or wounded.”

One guest who spoke to Tolo said some 1,200 people had been invited.

The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called the incident a “barbaric attack”, while Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a “crime against humanity”.

– Withdrawal deal expected –
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan’s security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.

On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh on the first official day of campaigning for presidential elections.

The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.

The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see America begin to draw down its troop presence.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday’s attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.

The “Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists,” Ghani said.

Expectations are rising for a deal in which the US would start pulling its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan, but few believe it will bring quick peace to Afghanistan.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return to some form of power, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.

Insurgents have periodically struck Afghan weddings, which are seen as easy targets because they typically lack security precautions.

Massive Blast Hits Kabul Wedding, At Least 20 Wounded

 

At least 20 people were wounded in a blast at a Kabul wedding hall late Saturday, a local hospital said, as a government official circulated images showing what appeared to be many dead bodies.

The explosion comes just as the US and the Taliban are widely expected to sign off on a deal that would see American troops begin to depart Afghanistan in return for various security assurances from the Taliban.

“#Kabul #Afghanistan explosion in a hotel during a wedding party, about 20 patients arrived up to now at our hospital #masscasualty,” the Italian-run Emergency hospital of Kabul said on Twitter.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the blast occurred in a west Kabul wedding hall around 10:40 pm (1810 GMT).

He shared on Facebook photos showing several apparent bodies inside a dining area.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Afghan weddings are an epic and vibrant affair, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.

Insurgents have periodically struck Afghan weddings, which are seen as “soft” targets with minimal security precautions.

On July 12, at least six people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a wedding ceremony in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The Islamic State group, which is present in the region, claimed the blast.

Expectations are rising for a deal in which the US would start withdrawing its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan after a two-decade war that has turned into a stalemate.

US President Donald Trump has said since the start of his presidency that he wants troops out of the country, where Washington has spent more than $1 trillion.

In return for the US departure, the Taliban would commit to various security guarantees, including that the Islamist hardliners who long harboured Al-Qaeda would not allow Afghanistan to once again become a jihadist safe haven.

AFP

20 Dead As Violence Mars Afghan Election Season Start

 

 

Deadly violence marred the start of Afghanistan’s election season on the weekend, after President Ashraf Ghani insisted “peace is coming” to the war-torn nation.

At least 20 people were killed and 50 others wounded on Sunday in an attack targeting the Kabul office of Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh.

The violence came on the first day of campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections, serving as a grim reminder of Afghanistan’s woeful security situation and the sort of mayhem and murder that have beset previous polls.

The attack began around 4:40 pm (1210 GMT), when a huge blast struck near the office of Green Trend, a youth and reform-focused civil society organisation Saleh heads. He escaped without serious injury, his office said.

The interior ministry said the assault began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car at the entrance to the building, then three attackers ran inside.

After about six hours the siege ended with all attackers killed and the rescue of about 150 people who had been trapped in the building, according to the interior ministry, which also provided the toll of 20 dead and 50 wounded.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Earlier on Sunday, a buoyant Ghani kicked off his campaign by insisting “peace is coming,” after nearly 18 years of conflict, and that pivotal talks with the Islamist extremist Taliban would take place.

He is hoping to fend off challenges from 17 other candidates to score a second term at twice-postponed presidential elections now slated for September 28.

On Saturday Ghani’s peace minister, Abdul Salam Rahimi, said direct talks would take place with the Taliban within two weeks as part of a larger, US-led push for peace.

Such a development could be crucial, as the Taliban — who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan — have so far refused to speak to Ghani’s government. They consider the Kabul administration illegitimate.

– Despondent voters –
War aside, the country faces a host of major issues ahead of the election, including rocketing crime, a lacklustre economy, soaring unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure.

Voters are despondent about the prospects of a fair election. Many worry about a repeat of violent attacks on previous polling stations by the Taliban and other insurgent groups trying to undermine Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.

Ghani insisted this year’s vote would be “clean”, but distrust is rife.

Sayed Jan, a 27-year-old student, said he won’t be voting as he has lost faith since the 2014 election that was mired in allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing.

“We have been betrayed by the candidates in the past. We cannot trust them this time,” he told AFP.

“We need peace in Afghanistan instead of elections. Even if I vote, the election will be fraudulent.”

‘Opportunities for peace’

In Kabul, security forces fanned out across the city as leading candidates held rallies.

Ghani’s top rival is Abdullah Abdullah, who currently serves as the president’s chief executive under an awkward power-sharing arrangement brokered by the US after the 2014 election.

“It is our national and religious duty to take advantage of any opportunities for peace,” Abdullah told a campaign rally.

One crucial issue is that the elections happen at all: they were postponed twice this year and further delays could lead to more distrust.

Despite Ghani’s claim that a summit between his government and the Taliban would take place shortly, the insurgents said they would only talk to Kabul after the US had announced a timeline for a withdrawal of foreign forces — a major part of any deal.

“The Kabul administration will be considered a political side, just like others, and not a government,” Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote in Pashto on Twitter.

Diplomatic sources have told AFP the Afghan-Taliban talks are scheduled to begin in Oslo on August 7.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Saturday that new “intra-Afghan” negotiations would only take place after the US and Taliban had concluded their own agreements.

Washington is hoping for a political agreement with the insurgents ahead of the September presidential election.

Other presidential candidates include Ghani’s former national security advisor Hanif Atmar and former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, nicknamed the “Butcher of Kabul” for his alleged role in the killing of thousands of people in the capital in the 1990s.

AFP

At Least 10 Killed As Three Blasts Rock Kabul

 

 

At least 10 people — including several women and a child — were killed and 41 others wounded by a series of blasts that rocked the Afghan capital Thursday ahead of the election season.

The three blasts came amid a wider surge in violence in Kabul and around Afghanistan, where nine family members were killed in an eastern province Thursday while heading to a wedding.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for one of the Kabul blasts, which came just three days before the official campaign season for the September 28 presidential election gets underway.

Previous polls have been marred by violence and bloodshed from the Taliban and other insurgent groups who refuse to recognise Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.

According to interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi, the first blast came around 8:10 am (0340 GMT) when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle hit a bus in eastern Kabul. He said the bus belonged to the ministry of mines and petroleum.

A second blast detonated nearby soon after, with a third coming in a separate district also in eastern Kabul, Rahimi added.

Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said the toll from the blasts was at least 10 dead, including five women and a child, and 41 wounded.

The attacks come as the US is negotiating for a deal that would see foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire and various Taliban security guarantees, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.

Some observers say the insurgents are increasing attacks to gain greater leverage in the talks.

Family killed

The Afghan war continues to take a brutal toll on civilians even amid the push for peace.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the eastern province of Nangarhar, said a car carrying a family on its way to a wedding was hit by a roadside bomb Thursday in Khogyani district.

As a result, six women and three children were killed, he said. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

A suicide attack on a wedding in Nangarhar on July 12, reportedly by a child bomber, was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has a growing footprint in that part of Afghanistan.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Kabul this week, is expected to travel to Qatar’s capital Doha in coming days for the new round of talks with the Taliban.

The US has also stepped up its air campaign against the Taliban this year, and all sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.

Still, the US and the Taliban insist they are making progress, and the insurgents and a group of Afghans this month made a vague and unbinding pledge to try to reduce civilian deaths to “zero”.

But civilians continue to pay a heavy price in Afghanistan’s raging conflict, with last year the deadliest on record for ordinary Afghans.

According to a UN tally, at 3,804 civilians died in the war in 2018, including 927 children.

President Donald Trump has said he wants the US to quit Afghanistan as soon as possible.

He provoked outrage in Afghanistan this week when he claimed he could easily win the war but did not “want to kill 10 million people” or wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the Earth”.

AFP

At Least 50 Children Wounded In Taliban Attack On Kabul

File photo of an explosion in Kabul central

 

At least 50 children were among nearly 100 people wounded Monday when the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in an area of Kabul housing military and government buildings, officials said.

The rush-hour blast, which sent a plume of smoke into the air and shook buildings nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) away, was followed by gunmen storming a building and triggering a gun battle with special forces in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital.

The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and 93 wounded.

Among them were 50 children, the education ministry said in a statement, adding that most had been hurt by flying glass and were in stable condition.

Some social media images purportedly taken at a hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.

In its statement, the education ministry said five schools had been partially damaged, and asked “all sides involved in fighting to guarantee the safety of students, teachers, education workers and schools”.

READ ALSO: At Least 65 Wounded As Powerful Car Bomb Rocks Kabul

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.

Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as gunfire continued.

Authorities have not confirmed the target, but Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the area had been cordoned off by special forces who were “bringing down” the attackers, with at least two killed.

“Security forces also rescued 210 civilians from buildings nearby,” he said.

AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting continued nearly seven hours after the first blast.

“We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us,” Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

Brief lockdown

“When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming,” Usman told AFP by telephone.

Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.

Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. “I was terrified,” Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP. A media watchdog said seven Shamshad journalists were among the wounded.

The attack came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast.

With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.

“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” Suhail Shaheen tweeted.

A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.

In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

However, US officials have insisted that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, including intra-Afghan talks.

AFP

Dozens Wounded As Powerful Blast Rocks Kabul

Afghan men walk on a road as smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul on July 1, 2019. Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful car bomb rocked Kabul early July 1, followed by gunmen battling special forces in an area housing military and government buildings, officials said. STR / AFP

Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful explosion rocked Kabul early Monday, targeting an area of the Afghan capital housing military and government buildings, officials said.

The rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the city, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

An AFP reporter said he could hear gunshots shortly after the blast.

“Dozens of wounded were taken to hospitals from today’s blast in Kabul,” health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar tweeted.

The area was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, while the nearby “Green Zone” diplomatic area was put on lockdown, with no one allowed in or out.

The heavily-secured neighbourhood is home to some military and government buildings, including one shared by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and defence ministry, as well as the Afghan Football Federation and the Afghan Cricket Board.

Shams Amini, a football federation spokesman, told AFP that the blast occurred near the federation’s gates.

“Some of our colleagues are trapped inside, we have reports of some injuries. We don’t know if the attackers have entered the building,” he said.

READ ALSO: Plane Crash In Texas Kills 10

Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices but said it was not the target.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, and police said they did not yet know the target or nature of the blast.

Both the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State group are active in Kabul.

The explosion came two days after the Taliban and the US began their seventh round of talks in the Qatari capital of Doha as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.

The negotiations have so far centred on four issues — counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent ceasefire.

A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among huge swathes of Afghans who fear the militants will return to some semblance of power.

In return the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremist groups, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

US officials have previously said they are hoping for a deal before the upcoming Afghan presidential elections, which have already been delayed twice and are now set for September.