A car bomb targeting a vehicle carrying foreign citizens killed 12 people outside a hospital on a busy Kabul street on Saturday, part of a wave of attacks in the capital since news broke last month of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Scores were injured. The force of the blast destroyed several vehicles, including a school van and a pick-up truck left twisted and blackened, with another vehicle in flames. Paramedics carried away casualties on stretchers.
Security sources said the target was a group of foreign security contractors working for DynCorp International. Health officials confirmed at least one foreigner was dead.
“Twelve dead bodies and 66 wounded people were taken to several Kabul hospitals,” health official Kabir Amiry said. “Some were in a bad condition.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Minutes after the explosion ripped through the residential street, British and U.S. soldiers arrived at the scene in armored vehicles. Several armed security contractors also pulled up and ran to the blast site.
DynCorp International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bombings have increased in the capital since the government and the Taliban in July confirmed that Mullah Omar had died two years ago. Some analysts say the insurgents are trying to show they remain potent.
The Taliban is fighting to overthrow the foreign-backed government, expel foreign forces from Afghanistan and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The violence has strained ties with neighbor Pakistan, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accusing the government there of not doing enough to stop militants planning attacks from training camps he says lie across the border.
Saturday’s bomb was placed in a Toyota sedan, a security official at the scene said. Flames billowed from the car and parts of it were ripped apart by the blast and scattered along the street.
Glass was blown out of the windows of the Shinozada hospital and a six-storey building opposite. On its website, the Shinozada is described as Afghanistan’s first private hospital.
The Afghanistan Police says a suicide bomber has attacked a checkpoint near the entrance to it’s international airport.
According to security officials at the scene, the attack was targeted at a convoy of armored cars and seven people said to be injured.
Kabul’s Deputy Police Chief, Sayed Gul Agha Rouhani, told reporters that a suicide bomber had driven a vehicle into the first checkpoint on the road into the airport.
Images showed a large plume of smoke rising from the site of the blast and locals reported seeing ambulances approaching the scene.
Those killed were four civilians and a border police officer.
The incident is the latest in a series of violent attacks in Kabul in the past few days.
At least 35 people had died and hundreds more were wounded in an attack on Friday, as a suicide bomber blew himself up near the city’s police academy in the evening, killing about 20 recruits. Not long after that, a large explosion was heard north of the airport.
A suicide bomber in a car attacked a convoy of foreign troops in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 15 people including six Americans, Afghan and foreign officials said, in one of the worst attacks in the Afghan capital in months.
Forty people were wounded in the blast at around 8 a.m. (0330 GMT) during the morning rush-hour.
The Hezb-e-Islami insurgent group, which is allied with the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on the two-vehicle convoy.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the bomber killed two of its members and four civilian contractors. It declined to give their nationalities.
But two senior officials, one Afghan and the other from ISAF, said the two ISAF soldiers and four contractors were all American.
Afghan officials said nine Afghan civilians were killed, including two children.
“Some of the dead civilians were badly burnt and cannot be recognized,” Kaneshka Baktash, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, told Reuters.
Helicopters buzzed over Kabul’s diplomatic area after the attack and sirens whined.
President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the “cowardly” attack.
“Terrorists and enemies of Afghanistan’s peace brutally targeted a residential area,” Karzai said in a statement.
Concern about Afghanistan’s prospects is growing as most foreign combat troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.
Karzai has accused neighboring Pakistan of meddling to de-stabilize his country. Analysts say Pakistan is maneuvering to limit the influence of its old rival, India, in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies meddling and says it wants a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
The blast caused heavy damage to buildings in the vicinity, including 10 residences.
“We were in our home drinking tea when the we heard a blast and our windows shattered, the glass wounded all of us,” Zohra, a wounded girl who only gave her first name, said from a hospital bed. Her head was wrapped in a bandage.
A Hezb-e-Islami spokesman told Reuters U.S. military advisers were the targets.
“We planned this attack for over a week,” the spokesman, Haroon Zarghoun, said by telephone.
Last year, in a similar attack, the group killed seven South African and Russian pilots on their way to work in Kabul.
Hezb-e-Islami, which means Islamic Party, is a radical militant group which shares some of the anti-foreigner, anti-government aims of the Taliban.
But the political wing of the group, founded by warlord and former anti-Soviet fighter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has been in exploratory talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a peace deal to end the 12-year war.
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, says it thwarts a large number of attacks on the capital on a weekly basis.
The last suicide bomb attack in Kabul was in March, when a man blew himself up at a Defense Ministry gate, killing nine Afghans, during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Suicide bombers attacked a compound housing Westerners in Kabul on Wednesday hours after U.S. President Barack Obama signed a security pact during a short visit to a city that remains vulnerable to a resilient insurgency.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which involved a car bomb and insurgents disguised as women on the eastern outskirts of the capital, killing seven people, a Gurkha guard and six passers-by, and wounding 17.
The Taliban said it was in response to Obama’s visit and to the strategic partnership deal he signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a pact that sets out a long-term U.S. role after most foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.
The insurgency also claimed their spring offensive, which began two weeks ago with attacks in Kabul, would be renewed on Thursday, despite a security clamp-down in the capital.
Obama’s visit came a year after U.S. special forces troops killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks, in a raid in neighbouring Pakistan.
In a televised address to the American people from a base north of Kabul, he said the war in Afghanistan was winding down.
“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America,” Obama said, speaking against a backdrop of armoured vehicles and a U.S. flag.
“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”
Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban rulers were ousted in 2001.
The Taliban, overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces for harbouring bin Laden and other militants, were quick to take credit for Wednesday’s attack at Green Village, one of several compounds for Westerners on a main road out of the capital.
“This attack was to make clear our reaction to Obama’s trip to Afghanistan. The message was that instead of signing a strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan, he should think about taking his troops out from Afghanistan and leave it to Afghans to rebuild their country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
But America’s Kabul ambassador, Ryan Crocker, said involvement of the Haqqani network – which Washington believes is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and which it blames for high-profile attacks in Kabul in April – could not be ruled out.
On the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing, Crocker said he did not believe there would be a sole turning point in the war.
“Al Qaeda is still there. We do feel we are prevailing in this with our Afghan partners,” he said. “We cannot be in a position of taking on ourselves bringing perfection to Afghanistan. That has to be left to Afghans.”
But Crocker said there would be no repeat of the 1990s when a withdrawal of Western backers in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal unleashed a vicious civil war out of which the Taliban and al Qaeda support bases arose.
Hundreds of police and intelligence agency troops surrounded the area around Green Village after the attack. Ruined cars were seen in front of the compound gates but officials said no attackers made it inside the heavily-guarded complex.
“I was going to the office when the car in front of me blew up. I got on my bicycle and fled,” 40-year-old Farid Ahmad Mohammad told Reuters near the scene of the explosion. A worker at the compound, Jamrod, said at a hospital where the wounded had been taken that he had been showing his identity card at the compound’s main gate when the vehicle exploded.
“I heard a bang and then I slammed into the wall,” Jamrod, still clad in blood-stained jeans, told Reuters.
Wednesday’s attack was the latest in a recent surge of violence after the Taliban announced they had begun their usual “spring offensive”, and since they suspended tentative steps towards peace talks with the United States.
Such incidents raise troubling questions about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over when militants remain able to stage high-profile attacks, even when already tight security had been beefed up even further for Obama’s visit.
Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in Kabul last month, paralyzing the city’s centre and diplomatic area for 18 hours.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for those attacks, but U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the militant, al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.
Obama’s visit was clearly an election-year event.
He spoke to U.S. troops during a stay in Afghanistan of roughly six hours and emphasized bin Laden’s demise, an event his re-election campaign has touted as one of his most important achievements in office.
“Not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Obama said to cheers.
But even as he asserted in his speech that there was a “clear path” to fulfilling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and made his strongest claim yet that the defeat of al Qaeda was “within reach”, he warned of further hardship ahead.
“I recognize that many Americans are tired of war … But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly,” he said at Bagram airbase, where only months ago thousands of Afghans rioted after U.S. troops accidentally burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
That incident, and the killing of 17 Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier weeks later, plunged already tense relations to their lowest point in years.
While speaking in broad terms of “difficult days ahead”, Obama did not address some of the thorniest challenges.
These include corruption in Karzai’s government, the unsteadiness of Afghan forces in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, and Washington’s strained ties with Pakistan, where U.S. officials see selective cooperation in cracking down on militants fuelling cross-border violence.
Earlier, Obama met Karzai at his walled garden palace in Kabul, where they signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. “By signing this document, we close the last 10 years and open a new season of equal relations,” Karzai said after the meeting.
The agreement does not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops, possibly special forces, and advisers will remain after NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline. That will be dealt with in a separate status-of-forces agreement still being worked out.
An attack has been launched by gunmen in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, assaulting Western embassies in the heavily guarded, central diplomatic area and at the parliament in the west, witnesses and officials said.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the assault, one of the boldest on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.
The Taliban said their main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force. Taliban fighters had also launched assaults in two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.
“We claim responsibility for these attacks,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The coordinated attack is bound to intensify worry in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Afghan security forces, who are responsible for the safety of the capital, were scrambling to reinforce areas around the so-called green diplomatic section of the city centre.
Attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed just outside the front gate of a house used by British diplomats in the city centre and smoke billowed from the area after the blast, a Reuters witness said.
British embassy sources said staff were in a lockdown.
Two rockets hit a British Embassy guard tower near the Reuters office in the city.
A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said via Twitter that there were no reports of casualties on possibly seven locations in Kabul.
“ANSF and ISAF responding as needed,” the spokesman said, referring to Afghan security forces and their NATO partners.
However, fighting was going on near the U.S., Russian and German embassies, and at some ISAF facilities, the Twitter report said.
Three other rockets hit a supermarket near the German Embassy popular with foreigners, Reuters witnesses said. Women scurried for cover as crackling gunfire was heard above.
As the gunfire continued, U.S. army convoys could be seen coming to the area accompanied by Afghan police in flak jackets.
Shooting came from various directions in an area close to both the U.S. and British embassies, while smoke billowed from the nearby German embassy, the Reuters witnesses said.
Embassy alarms were sounding. Staff at the embassies were not available for comment.
Attackers also fired rockets at the parliament building in the west of the city, and at the Russian embassy, a spokesman for the parliament said.
Most MPs had left the building before it came under attack, said a lawmaker.
Afghan media said insurgents had stormed the Star Hotel complex near the presidential palace and the Iranian embassy and black smoke was pouring from the building.
In the eastern province of Paktia, insurgents occupied a four-storey building near the compound of the chief of police, a witness said.
A helicopter gunship from Afghanistan’s NATO-led force was firing at the building in the province on the Pakistani border, which has been plagued by violence for years.
A US soldier in Afghanistan has shot dead 15 civilians and wounded others after entering their homes in Kandahar province, Afghan and NATO sources say.
He reportedly left his base early in the morning to attack village homes. Nine children are among the dead.
The White House voiced “deep concern” and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan promised a rapid inquiry.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the attack and demanded an explanation from Washington.
In Kandahar’s Panjwai district, local people have gathered near the base to protest about Sunday’s killings, and the US embassy is advising against travel to the area.
Anti-US sentiment is already high in Afghanistan after US soldiers’ burnt copies of the Koran last month.
US officials have apologised repeatedly for the incident at a NATO base in Kabul but they failed to quell a series of protests and attacks that killed at least 30 people and six US troops.
The US embassy in Kabul is warning of possible anti-American reprisals. These latest killings can only play into the already severely strained relationship between the US and Afghanistan after US soldiers burned copies of the Koran at a Nato military base near Kabul.
That incident sparked violent anti-American demonstrations. Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan has said that the latest incident is a “unique tragedy” and should not affect the timetable for the withdrawal of British and American combat troops by the end of 2014.
But Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating a long-term strategic partnership which will govern their relations from 2014 onwards. President Karzai was delivering a speech about the transition as news of today’s incident started to come in.
He stressed that any international forces remaining in the country then for training and other purposes would have to operate under strict guidelines regarding their responsibilities and when they could leave their bases.
He then made his way to the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban, about 500m (yds) from the base.
A local resident, Abdul Baqi, told the Associated Press news agency the soldier had apparently opened fire in three different houses.
“When it was happening in the middle of the night, we were inside our houses,” he said. “I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again.”
In one house in Najeeban, the gunman reportedly killed 11 people, setting fire to their bodies before he left.
A relative of the 11 victims, Haji Samad, told Reuters news agency chemicals had been poured over the bodies and set alight.
“I saw that all 11 of my relatives were killed, including my children and grandchildren,” he added, weeping.