KABUL, Feb 1, (Agencies): A Taleban suicide bomber struck a police base in central Kabul Monday, killing at least 20 people just days before a fresh round of international talks aimed at reviving dialogue with the Islamist group. Scores of people were also wounded in the bombing at the entrance of the base, which left several bodies and charred debris strewn around the area.
The attack comes amid the Taleban’s unprecedented winter offensive despite a renewed push to restart formal peace talks. The interior ministry initially reported the attack as a suicide car bomb, but later said the attacker appeared to be on foot and detonated himself in a queue of people waiting to get inside the base. “Ten people were reported killed and 20 others were wounded in a suicide attack in Deh Mazang square of Kabul city,” deputy interior minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said on Twitter. “Most of the victims were civilians.” Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid reported a death toll of nine, adding that as many as 12 people including a woman were wounded. The health ministry said some of those wounded were hit in the chest by flying shrapnel and are in critical condition. Ambulances rushed to the scene, which was cordoned off by authorities. The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, with insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claiming on Twitter that up to 40 police were killed and wounded. The militants routinely exaggerate the toll in attacks on the Afghan government.
The carnage comes just ahead of a third round of four-country “roadmap talks” trying to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group. Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States are set to convene in Islamabad on Feb 6 in a bid to seek a negotiated end to the Taleban insurgency, now in its fifteenth year. The Taleban have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation. In recent months the Taleban briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz, the first urban centre to fall to the insurgents, and have seized territory in the opiumgrowing southern province of Helmand.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in an attempt to wrangle greater concessions during talks. Meanwhile, militants and bad weather in northern Afghanistan have hampered efforts to repair power lines that were destroyed last week, cutting electricity in the capital, Kabul, to about six hours a day, officials said on Monday. Insurgents last week destroyed an electricity pylon in the Dand Shahabuddin district of Baghlan province that brought power from Uzbekistan to meet almost half of Kabul’s 600 megawatt daily requirement. Mirwais Alami, chief commercial officer at Afghanistan’s national power company, said repair crews had been unable to get close to the power lines because of mines and the threat from insurgents and said residents reported that more pylons had been brought down.