Saturday 25 February 2017

Truck bomb in Kabul kills eight, wounds hundreds

* Truck bombs rare in heavily guarded Afghan capital
* Many feared trapped under buildings near the blast

By Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati

An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Afghan men receive treatment at a hospital after a suicide truck bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reuters/Omar Sobhani
Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of a suicide truck bomb in Kabul. Reuters/Omar Sobhani

A truck bomb exploded near an army compound in central Kabul on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding hundreds, police and health officials said, in the first major attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban announced a new leader.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the nighttime explosion, which damaged homes and shops. A Taliban spokesman said the group was looking into the incident, while government officials said an investigation had begun.

"A truck bomb detonated close to an army compound," said Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi, adding that at least eight bodies had been found.

Police expect the number of dead to rise, with bodies feared to have been buried in the wreckage.

The target was probably a compound used by Afghan intelligence officials, said a Western security source who declined to be identified, because the topic is a sensitive one.

Friday's explosion was the first bombing in Kabul since Mullah Akhtar Mansour took charge of the Taliban last week, and it followed a rare truck bomb attack in an eastern province on Thursday.

The Kabul bomb left a hole 10 metres (33 ft) deep in the heavily populated Shah Shadid district, reduced buildings to rubble, shattered windows and damaged cars, a Reuters witness said.

The exact number of casualties was unclear. The health ministry said about 400 people, many wounded by debris and shattered glass, were taken to hospital. The interior ministry put the figure at 130.

The blast was unusually powerful in a city often targeted by the Taliban and other militants seeking to destabilise the troubled unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani.

Smaller bombs or suicide attacks are a weekly occurrence in the heavily fortified capital, but large truck bombs have rarely penetrated its outskirts.

An official at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul said it had been flooded with almost 100 patients, including many women and children, seeking treatment for minor wounds caused by debris.

The Afghan war between the foreign-backed government and the Taliban has intensified since the NATO combat mission ended last year and most foreign troops were withdrawn.

Afghan security forces have been battling the Taliban with only limited support from coalition forces this year. About 4,000 soldiers and police are lost each month to casualties and desertions, the U.S. general in command has said.

Efforts to restart the peace process with the Taliban have stalled since the movement's reclusive founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was revealed last week to have died two years ago.

Attention is now focused on internal tension in the Taliban over the question of succession, as Mansour's swift appointment by a small council of leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta has angered others in the group.

Mansour is widely considered a pragmatist who backs peace talks but his first public message was a pledge to continue the insurgency, which has caused civilian casualties of almost 5,000 in the first half of the year, U.N. figures show.

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