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KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents struck Tuesday in the heart of Kabul, killing at least 28 people and wounding more than 320 in a complex assault that included a huge car bomb that targeted the main government intelligence agency.

The assault occurred a week after the Taliban announced a new spring offensive, threatening largescale attacks against government facilities to drive the U.S.-backed government from power.

The coordinated attack began about 9 a.m. in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighborhood, with a large blast that reverberated throughout much of the capital. A gun battle between insurgents and security officials raged for hours after the blast, witnesses said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the suicide attack targeted the National Directorate of Security, which also provides bodyguards for government and foreign VIPs..

“At 9 a.m., one of the suicide bombers blew up his vehicle full of explosives at the entrance of the [intelligence agency] and removed the barriers and after that a number of suicide attackers went inside the directorate,” the Taliban said on their website.

Most of the victims were civilians, some of whom were in critical condition on Tuesday afternoon, said Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry.

Speaking to reporters, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that a suicide attacker detonated a vehicle with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and said that at least two insurgents were later killed by security forces at the scene. He said women and children were among the civilians killed.

He did not specify how many insurgents were involved in the operation.

The president’s office described it as a terrorist attack and said it “clearly shows the enemy’s defeat in face-to-face battle” with security forces.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission voiced similar views.

“Today’s attack shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks,” Gen. John W. Nicholson, Resolute Support commander, said. “We strongly condemn the actions of Afghanistan’s enemies and remain firmly committed to supporting our Afghan partners and the National Unity Government.”

The violence came just over a week after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a rocket attack in Kabul’s diplomatic area that coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The group said insurgents had “been unequivocally instructed to implement their operations in such a manner that takes pains to protect civilians and civil infrastructure.”

But the Defense Ministry said Monday’s attack showed the Taliban did not care about the Afghan people.

“[It] proved that they have lied. And it proved that they are still against the religion and people of Afghanistan,” a statement by the ministry said.

The U.N. Assistance Mission Afghanistan said Tuesday that the Taliban’s use of high explosives in civilian areas “may amount to war crimes.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.
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