Suicide blast in Kabul kills 17 near US Embassy
KABUL — In one of the deadliest attacks of the year in Afghanistan, 17 people were killed and dozens more injured Tuesday when a car bomb exploded next to several buses carrying government workers during rush hour, a top police officer said.
The bombing, the second major attack in two days in the Afghan capital, occurred just after 4 p.m. as government workers were leaving the Afghan Supreme Court building in central Kabul, said Mohammad Zahir, chief of criminal investigations. The Taliban quickly took credit for the attack and spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said a suicide bomber had detonated a sedan full of explosives as the government buses started leaving the neighborhood.
The blast follows Monday’s attack on Kabul airport in which a small team of insurgents battled Afghan troops for four and half hours, shutting down commercial flights at the airport. Authorities said all seven attackers were killed in the ensuing firefight and that there were no casualties among the Afghan security forces during the airport attack.
On Tuesday, ambulances were still arriving at the scene nearly two hours after the blast and body parts were strewn hundreds of yards. The blast, which could be heard miles away, occurred in a heavily populated residential neighborhood close to the U.S. Embassy. In addition to the 17 dead, there were at least 39 injured, including women and children, according to police officials.
More than 100 Afghan troops and foreign soldiers secured the scene. Four buses were heavily damaged, one blown into the yard of a nearby apartment building, and several cars were also destroyed. Windows in the nearby apartment buildings were blown out.
About 10 troops with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force could be seen at the bombing site about an hour and a half after the blast, though an ISAF spokesman said foreign forces were not assisting the Afghans.
“Assistance was not requested from ISAF, but we stand ready to provide assistance if needed,” ISAF spokesman Capt. Luca Carniel said.
Noorzan Stanizai, who lives in a nearby apartment building, said street vendors who had set up shop to sell food to government workers and local residents were among the dead and wounded.
“We are angry,” he said. “This is a civilian neighborhood and we asked the government not to use this area for their transportation.”
Insurgents have been stepping up their attacks in Kabul in an apparent effort to demonstrate that they remain an effective fighting force as the withdrawal of foreign combat troops draws nearer. All foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, when Afghan troops must take security responsibility for the country.
While Kabul has the so-called “Ring of Steel,” a series of checkpoints throughout the city, insurgents repeatedly have been able to successfully infiltrate into the city and stage spectacular attacks.
Omar Sharifi, a senior researcher with the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, said the Taliban are sowing terror in the capitol in part because they’ve failed to make strategic gains elsewhere. While they may have succeeded in making Kabul residents feel unsafe, he said, they haven’t made any concrete progress.
“The majority of these attacks failed to cause any significant damage to government officials,” he said. “Most of those killed have been, unfortunately, civilians. … The main result we’re seeing is to create an environment of terror and uncertainty around the situation.”
Sharifi said the Afghan National Security Forces have been able to mitigate that fear by getting attacks under control quickly. The four-and-a-half hours it took to quell the attack on Kabul’s airport on Monday may have seemed long, but for comparison he pointed to an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2011. That battle lasted 18 hours.
Sharifi said recent attacks, with the exception of one claimed by rival insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami, bear the hallmarks of Haqqani Taliban.
Mara Tchalakov, an Afghanistan analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, said rural attacks seem to be on the rise lately, but garner less attention than bombs in the capitol. In fact, she said, high-profile attacks seem to be up across the country, including offensives like an assault on the courthouse in Farah province in April that killed 44 people.
Stars and Stripes reporter Cid Standifer contributed to this report.