Thursday, September 23, 2021

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Multiple blasts, gunfire rock Kabul as conflict with Taliban intensifies ahead of U.S. withdrawal


KABUL - Several explosions and gunfights rocked Kabul on Tuesday night as the conflict between the Taliban and Afghan government forces is intensifying elsewhere in the country ahead of the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces this month.

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The attack began with a car bomb followed by gunmen on foot targeting the guesthouse of a senior Afghan security official in downtown Kabul, one of the largest assaults on the city in months, according to two Afghan officials.

A vehicle laden with explosives detonated at a checkpoint in the center of the city and was followed by a barrage of gunfire, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Other blasts, rocket and small-arms fire could be heard in downtown Kabul following the attack.

Gunmen entered the acting defense minister's compound, but Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was not present, according to one of the security officials. The acting minister tweeted, "Don't worry. Everything is fine," about an hour after the attack began. It is unclear if clashes were ongoing.

No group claimed responsibility, and the ministry of interior did not immediately release information regarding casualties.

The attack comes as the war in Afghanistan has intensified. Taliban fighters pushed into major Afghan cities over the past week, and the United States has increased the number of airstrikes to defend Afghan ground forces.

As the assault unfolded in Kabul, hundreds of Afghans poured into the streets chanting "God is great" in support of the country's armed forces against the Taliban. Similar scenes unfolded in the western city of Herat on Monday after hundreds of Afghan special forces were dispatched there to push back Taliban gains.

Mohammadi, the acting defense minister, released a video as clashes began to subside in Kabul.

"This sort of incident won't stop me and won't hurt my willingness to defend you and our country," he said, adding several of his personal bodyguards were wounded.

In Afghanistan's south, clashes escalated significantly inside the capital of Helmand province. Taliban fighters closed in on the city's government compound Tuesday, and the Afghan military warned civilians to evacuate their homes ahead of planned heavier use of airstrikes and artillery.

Over the past 24 hours, 40 civilians have been killed in clashes in Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah and over 100 have been wounded, the United Nations said Tuesday. A report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan warned of record-breaking civilian casualties this year if the conflict continues on its current trajectory.

Taliban leaders have repeatedly criticized the use of U.S. airstrikes, which the group says are in violation of the peace deal signed between the two sides last year. U.S. officials have said their forces will continue to use airstrikes to defend the Afghan government until their withdrawal is complete at the end of August. But Marine Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, last week did not rule out possible U.S. strikes after Aug. 31 against Taliban targets in support of embattled Afghan troops.

Afghan government troops have retaken a handful of districts, but Taliban forces continue to make steady gains in several parts of the country.

The use of car bombs to breach walls, followed by an infiltration by foot soldiers, is a well-worn militant tactic to overcome hardened security areas and overwhelm any remaining guards.

Large-scale car bomb attacks have largely dropped off in Kabul since the U.S. signed its deal with the Taliban in February 2020. But violence has been on the rise in the country's rural areas, causing civilian casualties to spike and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Published : August 04, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Susannah George