At least 80 people dead, over 300 others wounded
At least 80 people were killed and scores more wounded on Wednesday as a massive truck bomb ripped through Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, shattering the morning rush hour and bringing carnage to the streets of the Afghan capital.
Bodies littered the scene and a towering plume of smoke rose from the area, which houses foreign embassies, after the blast blew out the windows in a number of missions and residences hundreds of meters from the epicenter.
Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked schoolgirls sought safety, with men and woman struggling to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones. It was not immediately clear what the target was, but the attack underscores spiraling insecurity in Afghanistan, where a military beset by soaring casualties and desertions are struggling to beat back the insurgents. Over a third of the country is outside government control.
More than an hour after the explosion ambulances were still taking the wounded to hospital, as firefighters struggled to control blazes in several buildings.
Health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh gave the toll, which was confirmed by a second health official and the government media office, as the interior ministry urged Kabul residents to donate blood. Another spokesman, Ismael Kawoosi, cautioned that the toll could rise. “They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals,” he told AFP, adding there were at least 320 people injured.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack came as the resurgent Taliban are stepping up their annual “spring offensive.”
The Islamic State group has also claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armored NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.
Najib Danish, an interior ministry spokesman, said initial findings showed it had been a truck bomb.
Manpreet Vohra, India’s envoy to Afghanistan, told the Times Now television channel the blast hit around 100 meters as the crow flies from India’s embassy, one of several in the area. “We are all safe, all our staff, all our personnel are safe. However, the blast was very large and nearby buildings including our own building have considerable damage in terms of broken glass and shattered windows and blown doors etc,” he said. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.”
The explosion also shattered windows at the Japanese embassy. “Two Japanese embassy staffers were mildly injured, suffering cuts,” a foreign ministry official in Tokyo told AFP.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan. Afghan troops are backed by U.S. and NATO forces, and the Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands more troops to the country to break the deadlocked fight against the Taliban.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, who also mainly serve in an advisory capacity—a far cry from the U.S. presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.
The blast was the latest in a long line of attacks in Kabul. The province surrounding the capital had the highest number of casualties in the first three months of 2017 thanks to multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.