51 dead, hundreds wounded in lethal wave of Kabul bombings


KABUL - Fifteen more fatalities were confirmed Saturday from a barrage of bombings in Kabul, taking the toll to 51 in the deadliest day for the city in years as Afghanistan battles an escalating Taliban insurgency.

The explosions on Friday, which devastated buildings and overwhelmed hospitals with hundreds of casualties, were the first major militant assaults on Kabul since the announcement of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's death.

The attacks underscored the country's volatile security situation amid a faltering peace process and the potency of the Taliban insurgency, despite it being riven by growing internal divisions.

In the first attack, a powerful truck bomb tore through the centre of Kabul just after midnight on Friday, killing 15 civilians and wounding 240 others.

Less than 24 hours later, 27 cadets and civilians were killed when a suicide bomber dressed in police uniform blew himself up at the entrance of Kabul Police Academy.

Explosions and gunfire also erupted when Camp Integrity, a US special forces base in Kabul, came under attack late Friday, killing nine people, including a NATO service member.

The Taliban distanced themselves from the truck bombing which struck near a Kabul military base - as they usually do in attacks that result in mass civilian casualties.

But they claimed responsibility for both other attacks, which marked a serious breach of security at a premier training institute for Afghan forces and a foreign coalition facility.

The three assaults made Friday the deadliest 24 hours in Kabul since December 2011, when more than 50 people were killed in a suicide attack during the Shiite holy day of Ashura.

"The Afghan people are resilient, but the suffering caused by (these attacks) in terms of civilian deaths, injuries, and the loss of family members, is extreme, irreversible and unjustifiable," the UN mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.

The carnage highlighted the risk of a bloodier insurgency under a new Taliban leadership as Afghan forces face their first summer fighting season without the full support of NATO, which ended its combat mission in December.

- 'Capable, potent and operational' - ===================================== Friday's bombings were the first major attacks since Mullah Akhtar Mansour was named as the new Taliban chief last week in an acrimonious power transition after the insurgents confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.

Experts say the escalating violence demonstrates Mullah Mansour's attempt to boost his image among Taliban cadres and drive attention away from internal rifts over his leadership.

"The new wave of attacks is a tactic by the Taliban's new leadership to show they are capable, potent and operational," said security analyst Abdul Hadi Khaled.

"The demise of Mullah Omar divided the movement and affected the morale of their ground fighters. Hitting Kabul with a wave of powerful attacks is a way of showcasing their strength." Mansour is seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, but he also has powerful rivals within the Taliban who are strongly opposed to negotiations with the Afghan government.

People wounded in Friday's attacks were pouring into city hospitals, officials said, with reports emerging of blood shortages and urgent appeals for donors circulating on social media.

In the deadliest attack, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives after placing himself in a queue as police trainees were waiting to be searched before entering the academy, killing 27, two security officials told AFP.

Anguished relatives of cadets gathered near the academy, which was cordoned off by heavily armed security officials as ambulances with wailing sirens rushed to the scene.

Four militants including a suicide car bomber launched the attack on Camp Integrity, triggering explosions and an hours-long firefight, with military jets heard flying over the centre of Kabul.

NATO did not reveal the nationalities of the victims, but a local security firm contracted to guard the camp said eight were Afghans.

Hours earlier, a truck bomb detonated near an army base in the neighbourhood of Shah Shaheed, rattling homes across the city, ripping off the facades of buildings and leaving scattered piles of rubble.

That attack left 15 dead and 240 wounded, deputy presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi said.

"These attacks... demonstrate the insurgency's complete disregard for the lives of innocent Afghans," the US State Department said Saturday.

"We again call upon the Taliban, other Afghan militant groups, and anyone supporting them to bring an end to violence in Afghanistan."