A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) near the old ministry of interior building in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier today.
Initial casualty reports vary, but the death toll has steadily climbed. Nearly 100 people are now thought to have been killed, according to Afghan officials. But that figure could rise even further as authorities sift through the wreckage and attempt to save the wounded.
It may be the deadliest incident inside the Afghan capital since a May 31, 2017 suicide truck bombing killed approximately 150 people. The Afghan government has blamed the Haqqani Network, an integral part of the Taliban coalition, for that explosion.
The Taliban’s spokesman quickly claimed responsibility today’s massacre via Twitter:
The Taliban then followed up on social media and its official website, the Voice of Jihad, with additional information about the suicide bomber. The Taliban identified the VBIED driver as Salahuddin Kandahari, “of the martyr unit of the Islamic Emirate,” and said he targeted the “dining area” in the old ministry of interior building. Salahuddin blew his vehicle up at “the second check post close to the entrance of the interior ministry after passing the first checkpoint.”
The Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also tweeted the image of the blast seen on the right.
Despite the large number of civilians in the area, the Taliban claims its decision to strike the building was justified as it was previously declared part of its war zone. The group alleges that it correctly timed the assault to hit government personnel.
“The area has been under observation over the last week for the operation to take place and today’s attack was the right thing at the right time as the officials, staff, offers and military personnel of the interior ministry were gathered at lunchtime close to the attack site,” Voice of Jihad claimed.
The Taliban also says that “246 enemy personnel including officers were among” the “casualties in today’s martyr attack, which came after the Helmand operation that killed a large number of the puppets.”
The “Helmand operation” was a separate suicide incident conducted by a jihadist identified as Noor Ahmad Zarqawi, who struck an “enemy outpost.” The organization claims that dozens more were killed or wounded in that VBIED explosion.
The Taliban portrays both the Kabul and Helmand bombings as “retaliation against the enemy” for “airstrikes on defenseless civilians, razing their houses and their abductions.” The group’s propagandists released a video allegedly showing the aftermath of airstrikes in Kunduz. The production was almost certainly intended to justify the killings in Kabul, which led to civilian casualties, as the Taliban is often concerned about how its terrorism is perceived and uses pretexts to rationalize its acts. For example, the Taliban has denied responsibility the May 31, 2017 attack in Kabul, despite the fact that authorities have identified the perpetrators as members of the Taliban’s Haqqani Network.
The jihadists reportedly used deception to infiltrate the Kabul compound, as the VBIED was an ambulance packed with explosives. The delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan reacted to this reporting, noting that the use of an ambulance in this manner “could amount to perfidy under IHL,” or international humanitarian law, and is “[u]nacceptable and unjustifiable.”
Gen. John Nicholson, the commander NATO’s Resolute Support, condemned the Taliban’s bombing in a statement, saying there was no justification for “indiscriminately” killing civilians.
“Unarmed civilians throughout Afghanistan regularly bear the brunt of this cruelty” and the “perpetrators of these attacks care nothing for the Afghan people,” Gen. Nicholson said.
The bombing earlier today is the Taliban’s second major attack inside Kabul this week.
On Jan. 20 and 21, a Taliban assault team raided the Intercontinental Hotel. Afghan security forces finally ended the siege after more than 12 hours. At least 22 people, including several Americans, were killed and others wounded. It was the second time the hotel had been targeted in such a manner, as another jihadist squad invaded the hotel in 2011.