A Taliban suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in central Kabul on Sunday, triggering a powerful explosion less than two weeks after the resurgent militant group overran a key northern Afghan city.
The rush-hour bombing, which sent a plume of smoke into the sky, injured at least three civilians as the Taliban ramp up attacks on government and foreign targets.
The intensity of the blast sent an armoured vehicle crashing into a sidewalk, its front end badly mangled, and left the area littered with charred pieces of twisted metal.
“The incident took place while a suicide car bomber detonated an explosive-packed car in the Joy Shir area… of Kabul city,” the interior ministry said.
“The target of the attacker were the foreign forces convoy.”
Security forces cordoned off the area as ambulances with wailing sirens rushed to the scene, but officials said the human toll of the blast was limited.
“The ministry of interior condemns in the strongest terms the suicide attack which resulted in the wounding of three civilians,” the ministry said, a toll that was confirmed by the Kabul police.
A NATO spokesman in Kabul confirmed that their convoy came under attack but said the international coalition was still gathering further information.
The Taliban were behind the bombing, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
“A convoy of foreign forces came under martyrdom attack by our mujahideen in Joy Shir area of Kabul city. Two of their vehicles were damaged and all aboard the vehicles were killed,” he said.
The Taliban, toppled from power in a 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, are known to exaggerate battlefield claims.
– Resurgent Taliban –
The emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks around Afghanistan since they launched their annual summer offensive in late April.
The militants overran the northern city of Kunduz on September 28, their most spectacular victory in 14 years.
The seizure of the provincial capital for three days was a stinging blow to Western-trained Afghan forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since the end of NATO’s combat mission in December.
The government claims to have wrested back control of the city but sporadic firefights continue with pockets of insurgents as Afghan soldiers, backed by NATO special forces, conduct clearance operations.
As fighting spreads in neighbouring Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan provinces, concerns are mounting that the seizure of Kunduz was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder strategy to tighten the insurgency’s grip across northern Afghanistan.
Most NATO combat troops pulled out of Afghanistan last year but a small contingent focused on training and counter-terrorism operations remains, including roughly 10,000 American soldiers.
NATO forces are themselves under fire after a US air strike on October 3 pummelled a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 12 staff and 10 patients.
The medical charity shut down the trauma centre, branding the incident a war crime and demanding an international investigation into the incident, which sparked an avalanche of global condemnation.
President Barack Obama has apologised over the strike, with three different investigations — led by NATO, US forces and Afghan officials — currently under way.
The Pentagon announced Saturday it would make compensation payments for those killed or injured in the strike.