KABUL: A powerful bomb exploded in the morning rush hour in the center of Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds and sending clouds of black smoke into the sky above the presidential palace and foreign embassies.
The bomb, one of the deadliest in Kabul and coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, exploded close to the fortified entrance to the German embassy, killing a security guard and wounding some staff, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Twitter.
Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police, said it was a car bomb near the German embassy. “But there are several other important compounds and offices near there too,” he told. The blast, which shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of meters (yards) away, was unusually strong, with some reports saying it was caused by explosives concealed in a water tanker.
A statement from the NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Kabul said Afghan security forces had prevented the vehicle from entering the heavily protected Green Zone that houses many foreign embassies as well as RS headquarters, suggesting it may not have reached its intended target.
A public health official said at least 80 people had been killed and more than 350 wounded. The victims appear mainly to have been Afghan civilians. As well as the German embassy, the French and Chinese embassies were among those damaged, the two countries said, adding there were no immediate signs of injuries among their diplomats.
Video shot at the scene showed burning debris, crumbled walls and buildings and destroyed cars, many with dead or injured people inside. At the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital a few blocks away, there were scenes of chaos as ambulances brought in wounded and frantic relatives scanned casualty lists and questioned hospital staff for news.
Wednesday’s attack underscores spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan, where Afghan forces beset by soaring casualties and desertions are struggling to beat back the insurgents. More than one third of the country is outside government control.
Afghan troops are backed by US 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. US 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 US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan. 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.
“By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive #Kabul blast,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. The Indian embassy is among those close to the area.
By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive #Kabul blast.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) May 31, 2017