Bomb blast rocks Kabul during rush hour, killing dozens of civilians

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 31, 2017:

A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated near diplomatic facilities in the Afghan capital during rush hour this morning. Preliminary casualty reports say that at least 80 people were killed in the blast and dozens more wounded. A photo of the aftermath of the bombing (seen above) was posted on Twitter by Afghanistan’s Ariana News.

The bomb exploded at 8:22 am local time “in Kabul near Zambaq Square outside the Green Zone, which houses diplomatic and government facilities,” according to NATO’s Resolute Support. Afghan security forces “prevented the VBIED from gaining entry to the Green Zone,” but dozens of nearby civilians perished.

The Taliban has already denied any involvement via a statement attributed to Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman. It is likely that the Islamic State, which has carried out large-scale operations in Kabul this year, will claim responsibility.

Even though the Taliban-led insurgency is responsible for many civilian casualties, the organization is concerned with how its violence is perceived by the Afghan population. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists have no such concern.

Resolute Support quickly pointed out that the “attack demonstrates a complete disregard for civilians and reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people.” It “also highlights the hypocrisy of the enemy who claim that they only target Afghan Security Forces and Foreign forces, yet continue to cause death and suffering amongst innocent Afghans.”

Mujahid’s statement reads like a response to Resolute Support. “This explosion has nothing to do with the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate,” the statement reads. “Our Mujahideen are not involved in this incident and neither are the Mujahideen allowed to carry out such…large explosions at ill-defined areas.” The Taliban’s spokesman says the group “condemns every explosion and attack carried out against civilians, or in which civilians are harmed and [there is] no legitimate target.”

“Our countrymen must rest assured that the Kabul attack is not the work of Mujahideen,” Mujahid says.

The German government confirmed that the bombing was “carried out in the immediate vicinity” of its embassy. “It hit civilians and it hit those who are in Afghanistan to work with the people there on a better future for the country,” Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, said in a statement. “It is particularly despicable that these people were targeted.” Gabriel said that German Embassy staff members were injured, but all of them “are now safe.” An Afghan security officer who was guarding the grounds wasn’t so lucky, as he was killed in the explosion.

BBC News reported that Mohammed Nazir, an Afghan driver who worked with the service’s journalists, was killed. Afghanistan’s ToloNews has also reported at least one death as a result of the bombing.

The Islamic State has carried out several high-profile attacks in Kabul this year.

On Feb. 7, the group launched a suicide bombing outside of the supreme court, killing at least 20 people.

Then, on Mar. 8, an Islamic State suicide team assaulted the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital in Kabul. According to the UN, the hospital is “the largest military medical facility in Afghanistan” and “treats sick and wounded members of the armed forces and their family members.” The jihadists dressed like hospital personnel in order to confuse their victims. There are conflicting reports with respect to the total number of casualties, but dozens were killed or wounded.

On May 3, another suicide bomber detonated his VBIED at an Afghan security checkpoint near the US Embassy in Kabul. The Islamic State’s jihadist was targeting a NATO convoy, but at least eight civilians were killed. Three coalition service members were also wounded, according to Resolute Support.

The US has been leading a counterterrorism operation against the Islamic State’s Wilyah Khorasan (or Khorasan province) in eastern Afghanistan. In April, three American service members were killed during raids in Nangarhar, which has been Wilayah Khorasan’s stronghold. The so-called caliphate’s men have lost ground in Nangarhar, but are still able to execute high-profile operations in Kabul and elsewhere. [For more on the US-led effort against the Islamic State’s Wilayah Khorasan, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: 2 American service members killed fighting Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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