Dozens killed, foreign embassies damaged after massive truck bomb explodes in Afghan capital

Burned vehicles are seen after a blast at the site of the incident in Kabul, Afghanistan May 31, 2017.
PHOTO: Reuters

At least 49 people were killed and hundreds wounded Wednesday when a massive truck bomb ripped through Kabul's diplomatic quarter, shattering the morning rush hour and bringing carnage to the streets of the Afghan capital.

Bodies littered the scene and a towering plume of smoke rose from the area, which houses foreign embassies, after the blast blew out the windows in several missions and residences hundreds of metres away.

Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked schoolgirls sought safety, with men and women struggling to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones.

It was not immediately clear what the target was. But the attack underscores spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan, where a military beset by soaring casualties and desertions is struggling to beat back the insurgents. Over a third of the country is outside government control.

More than an hour after the explosion, ambulances were still taking the wounded to hospital as firefighters struggled to control blazes in several buildings.

Health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said at least 49 people had been killed and 320 wounded, with the figures confirmed by a second health official and the government media office.

Authorities warned the toll could yet rise. "They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals," senior health ministry spokesman Ismael Kawoosi told AFP.

The interior ministry was calling on Kabul residents to donate blood, saying hospitals were in "dire need".

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack came as the resurgent Taliban step up their annual "spring offensive".

The Islamic State group has also claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.

Najib Danish, an interior ministry spokesman, said initial findings showed it had been a truck bomb.

Indian, Japanese embassies damaged

Manpreet Vohra, India's envoy to Afghanistan, told the Times Now television channel the bomb went off around 100 metres from India's embassy, one of several in the area.

"We are all safe, all our staff, all our personnel are safe. However, the blast was very large and nearby buildings including our own building have considerable damage in terms of broken glass and shattered windows and blown doors etc," he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured."

The explosion also shattered windows at the Japanese embassy. "Two Japanese embassy staffers were mildly injured, suffering cuts," a foreign ministry official in Tokyo told AFP.

France also reported damage to its own embassy and the German one.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of "another tough year" for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan.

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 deadlock in the fight against the Taliban.

Gunmen dressed as medics attack Afghan military hospital

  • Gunmen dressed as medics stormed a hospital in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017, and battled security forces for hours.
  • More than 30 people were killed dozens were wounded in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
  • A suicide bomber blew himself up at the rear of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital, across the road from the heavily fortified U.S. embassy.
  • Three attackers with automatic weapons and hand grenades entered the complex, security officials said.
  • Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the attack was suppressed by mid-afternoon, with all three gunmen killed.
  • As security forces swept the hospital buildings, another ministry spokesman said they found at least 30 dead and 50 wounded, including doctors, patients and hospital staff.
  • The gunmen, dressed as medical personnel, had taken up positions on the upper floors of the hospital and engaged special forces sent to the scene, officials said.
  • Security forces blocked off the area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection, and special forces soldiers descended on to the roof of the main building from helicopters.
  • Sporadic gunfire could be heard for hours and, as fighting went on, there was a second explosion, which a spokesman said was caused when a car inside the hospital complex blew up.
  • A statement from Islamic State's Amaq News Agency said its fighters had attacked the hospital, while an Afghan Taliban spokesman denied responsibility, saying the Islamist insurgency had "no connection" with the attack.
  • The raid on the hospital followed warnings by government officials that high-profile attacks in Kabul were likely to escalate this year.
  • With U.S. President Donald Trump yet to announce his policy for Afghanistan, the attack also pointed to Islamic State's growing threat.
  • The movement, opposed to both the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban, is based in the Middle East but has established a solid presence on the border with Pakistan.
  • The attack on a hospital that treats military casualties from around Afghanistan drew wide condemnation and President Ashraf Ghani said it "trampled on all human values".
  • Witnesses inside the hospital said they were caught by surprise as a gunman dressed in a white doctor's coat took out a concealed AK-47 assault rifle and opened fire, killing at least one patient and one hospital worker.
  • The attack came just a week after dozens of people were killed and wounded in coordinated attacks on a police station and an office of the intelligence service in Kabul.
  • An injured Afghan patient is wheeled into position at an X-ray machine at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital. Gunmen wearing white medical coats stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital on March 8, killing 38 people and wounding more than 70 others, including patients, doctors and nurses in a six-hour attack.
  • A wounded Afghan nurse waits to be X-rayed at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after she was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • A wounded Afghan soldier receives treatment at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • A wounded Afghan soldier receives treatment at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • A wounded Afghan soldier is accompanied by a relative as he recovers at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • Afghan doctors move a wounded soldier onto a trolley at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • A wounded Afghan soldier recovers at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • Afghan doctors move a wounded soldier using a trolley at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.
  • A wounded Afghan soldier speaks with colleagues at a hospital in Kabul on March 9, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on the main military hospital in the Afghan capital.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies. They mainly serve in an advisory capacity -- a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

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 due to multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

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