At least 10 people – including several women and a child – were killed and scores more wounded by a series of blasts that rocked the Afghan capital on Thursday, July 25 ahead of the election season.
The three blasts came amid a wider surge in violence in Kabul and around Afghanistan, where nine family members were killed in an eastern province Thursday while driving to a wedding.
Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate claimed responsibility for the first two blasts, while the Taliban claimed the third. U.S. and Afghan security officials, however, blamed the Taliban for all three explosions.
The attacks came just days before the official campaign season for the September 28 presidential election gets underway.
Previous polls have been marred by violence and bloodshed from the Taliban and other insurgent groups who refuse to recognize Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.
According to security officials and high-resolution surveillance footage seen by AFP, the first blast came around 0810 (0340 GMT) when a suicide bomber targeted a bus as it slowed to turn a corner in an area just east of central Kabul.
Civilians could be seen scrambling to help stricken passengers off the bus and carrying the body of a small child from the vehicle as smoke poured out the rear window. Other bodies could be seen pooling blood onto the road.
About 30 minutes later, a secondary explosion from a device that had been hidden at the scene hit civilians and Afghan security forces as they responded.
A third blast, apparently targeting some sort of convoy, came later on in the morning also in eastern Kabul.
Interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said a total of 11 civilians were killed, including five women and a child, and 45 more wounded.
Health ministry spokesperson Wahidullah Mayar said the toll was at least 10 dead and 41 wounded.
The attacks come as the U.S. is negotiating for a deal that would see foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire and various Taliban guarantees, including a pledge the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
Some observers say the insurgents are increasing attacks to gain greater leverage in the talks.
Despite the claim from ISIS for the first two blasts, Afghan and U.S. security officials blamed the attack on the Taliban, saying the insurgents had distanced themselves from the bloodshed once they realized how many civilians were killed.
“Over the past month, we have seen increased numbers of civilian casualties. [The Taliban] are not targeting coalition forces, they are injuring innocent Afghans,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesperson for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
“The Taliban are conducting talks while repeating these crimes against humanity,” the office of President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second term, said in a statement.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesperson for the eastern province of Nangarhar, said a car carrying a family to a wedding was hit by a roadside bomb Thursday in Khogyani district. Six women and three children were killed, he said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
A suicide attack on a wedding in Nangarhar on July 12, reportedly by a child bomber, was claimed by ISIS, which has a growing footprint in that part of Afghanistan.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Kabul this week, is expected to travel to Qatar’s capital Doha in coming days for the new round of talks with the Taliban.
The U.S. has also stepped up its air campaign against the Taliban this year, and all sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.
Still, the U.S. and the Taliban insist they are making progress, and the insurgents and a group of Afghans this month made a vague and unbinding pledge to try to reduce civilian deaths to “zero.”
But civilians continue to pay a heavy price, with last year the deadliest on record for ordinary Afghans.
According to a United Nations tally, at least 3,804 civilians died in the war in 2018, including 927 children.
President Donald Trump has said he wants the U.S. to quit Afghanistan as soon as possible.
He provoked outrage this week when he claimed he could easily win the war but did not “want to kill 10 million people” or wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the Earth.”
With reporting from AFP