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An Afghan man waits, smoking, beside a pile of stretchers outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in a busy part of town. The attack left dozens dead and more than 150 wounded.
An Afghan man waits, smoking, beside a pile of stretchers outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in a busy part of town. The attack left dozens dead and more than 150 wounded. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan man waits, smoking, beside a pile of stretchers outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in a busy part of town. The attack left dozens dead and more than 150 wounded.
An Afghan man waits, smoking, beside a pile of stretchers outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in a busy part of town. The attack left dozens dead and more than 150 wounded. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Afghans crowd outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in an area of the city teeming with people. 
Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes
Afghans crowd outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day in an area of the city teeming with people. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Men and women crowd the gates of Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, seeking news of loved ones after a deadly ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day. Casualties from the blast strained the hospital's capacity as they arrived in piles in the back of ambulances.
Men and women crowd the gates of Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, seeking news of loved ones after a deadly ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day. Casualties from the blast strained the hospital's capacity as they arrived in piles in the back of ambulances. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Afghans wait for news of their loved ones outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day near the old Interior Ministry building in an area of the city teeming with people. Dozens were killed and dozens more wounded, arriving to the hospital piled in the backs of vehicles, straining the facility's capacity.

Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes
Afghans wait for news of their loved ones outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a ambulance-borne bomb blast earlier in the day near the old Interior Ministry building in an area of the city teeming with people. Dozens were killed and dozens more wounded, arriving to the hospital piled in the backs of vehicles, straining the facility's capacity. Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Bloody stretchers piled up outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following an ambulance-borne bomb blast that killed dozens and wounded scores more in a busy area of the city, near embassies and government buildings in the Afghan capital.
Bloody stretchers piled up outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following an ambulance-borne bomb blast that killed dozens and wounded scores more in a busy area of the city, near embassies and government buildings in the Afghan capital. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Latex gloves litter the trash-strewn gutters outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a deadly attack in the busy center of the city that killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 150 others earlier in the day.
Latex gloves litter the trash-strewn gutters outside Emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, following a deadly attack in the busy center of the city that killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 150 others earlier in the day. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 103 people were killed and more than 230 were wounded on Saturday when an ambulance packed with explosives was detonated in central Kabul, officials said.

The explosion was the third high-profile attack in Afghanistan in a week, and the deadliest this year, highlighting the fragile security situation in the country, more than 16 years after a U.S. invasion ousted the Taliban from power.

The vehicle made it past a checkpoint in a heavily secured area near the capital’s Sadarat Square — about a mile from the US Embassy and NATO’s Resolute Support headquarters — before being stopped at a second checkpoint, where it exploded, Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul Police said. It was lunchtime and many people were in the street.

“Most of the victims are civilians,” Mujahid said. “It was a terrible attack that killed women, children, shopkeepers and visitors to the area.”

Dejan Panic, a coordinator with the NGO Emergency, which operates a nearby hospital that treated victims, described the scene as “a massacre.”

Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel was at the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul when the bombing took place, reporters from the Wall Street Journal and Defense One who were accompanying Votel said on Twitter late Saturday. Votel and his traveling party were not hurt and have since continued onward.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the bombing targeted a building used by the Interior Ministry and High Peace Council, a body set up in 2010 to negotiate with insurgents. A number of police officers were killed or wounded, a statement by the group added.

After the attack, dozens of people waited outside the Emergency Hospital for news of their loved ones, including Mohammadullah, a young travel agent whose friend was missing.

“Our government is doing nothing for us,” Mohammadullah, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said. “People are living in fear—they can’t go to their jobs. Instead of getting better, it’s getting worse day-by-day, and the attacks are getting deadlier.”

Officials expect the death toll from the attack, already one of the highest of the war, to rise. The deadliest attack happened last May, when a truck-bomb attributed to the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network exploded near the German Embassy in Kabul, killing over 150.

The U.S. has recently increased airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan in the hopes of breaking a stalemate and getting the insurgents to the negotiating table. After a recent visit to Afghanistan, the U.S.’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the aggressive policy was working and that peace talks were closer than ever.

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned Saturday’s bombing, calling it, “insane, inhuman, heinous and a war crime.”

“We will bring its perpetrators to justice and take necessary measures to avoid such barbarism in the future,” Abdullah said on Twitter.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement the attack was “nothing short of an atrocity.”

“While the Taliban claim suggested the purpose of the attack was to target police, a massive vehicle bomb in a densely populated area could not reasonably be expected to leave civilians unharmed,” the statement said.

NATO vowed to stand with the Afghan government, following the explosion.

The blast came three days after militants affiliated with a local branch of the Islamic State group attacked a Save the Children office in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing at least four people.

Four days before that attack, a group of gunmen stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, killing at least 22 people, including four Americans.

Chad Garland and Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @pwwellman

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