A powerful car bomb exploded early Tuesday within a few feet of a passing military convoy on the western edge of Kabul, killing at least a dozen Afghan civilians and six foreign troops, including five Americans and one Canadian, U.S. military and Afghan officials said. The radical Islamist Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the blast, which it said was carried out by a suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with 1,650 pounds of explosives.
The blast overturned a heavy military truck and gouged an enormous crater in a street near the ruined Darulaman Palace, once home to Afghanistan’s royal family, witnesses said. Five vehicles in the convoy were heavily damaged, along with more than a dozen civilian cars and a public bus. The bombing occurred during preparations for a “peace jigra” organized by the Karzai government to try and reconcile the country’s warring factions and pave the way for an eventual withdrawal of international troops.
The site of the explosion, a traffic circle on a main road, became a scene of devastating carnage, with body parts scattered everywhere and victims missing limbs or parts of their heads, victims said. The bombing site was also near the parliament building and a training center for Afghan troops.Ali Ahmed Ibrakhimkhel, a 40-year-old shopkeeper, joined others in collecting pieces of flesh and putting them into plastic bags. “It was a really terrible day,” he said. (Washington Post) Witnesses told local television reporters that the bomb was inside a minivan that drove up to the U.S.-led military convoy as it traveled along the road.
Baryalai Sherzai, who owns a bodybuilding gym in Kabul, said he was driving directly behind the suicide bomber when he and his mother, who was in the passenger seat, heard a huge explosion. Everything went dark, he said, the windows of the car shattered, and his mother cut her head. “I don’t know if my mother is dead or alive,” Sherzai, 27, said outside a hospital where she had been taken for treatment. (Washington Post)
“I saw one person laying on the ground with no head,” said Mirza Mohammad, who was on his way to work when the blast happened up the road. (The Globe & Mail)
“The blast knocked me down, although I wasn’t very near the explosion but I saw a van exploded and there was blood and bodies everywhere,” said a teenager named Mustafa, whose head was wrapped in a blood-stained bandage. (Reuters)
Another survivor, government worker Noor Mohammad, was waiting for the bus when the bomber detonated his vehicle. “A van driving very fast approached the convoy of foreigners and a huge blast went off… I didn’t know I was hurt, the explosion deafened my ears and I had a blackout,” Mohammad, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs, said from his hospital bed. (Reuters)
It was the first major bombing in the Afghan capital since February, and one of the deadliest in recent memory for troops of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) The Afghan Interior Military reported that at least 12 Afghan civilians were killed and 47 wounded in the bombing, which occurred around 8 a.m. when people were on their way to work. Many of the dead civilians had been waiting at a nearby bus stop on the busy Kabul road that runs past the former palace and government ministries.
A Canadian Forces colonel was the latest casualty of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and the highest-ranking soldier to give his life for the mission since it began in 2002. Military officials at Kandahar City said Col. Geoff Parker, 42, a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment who was born and raised in Oakville, Ont., was one of the victims of the bombing. Col. Parker was commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, RCR, based at CFB Gagetown. Col. Parker was in Kabul to interact with international organizations there in an effort to prepare his team for their upcoming mission, Col. Simon Hetherington, deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar, told a news conference. Col. Parker was well known, highly respected and considered a good friend by countless army officers across Canada. “He was a career infantry officer – a proud member of the Royal Canadian Regiment – who excelled in virtually every position he held in the Army,” Col. Hetherington said. “As a battalion commander, he led his soldiers from the front and with distinction. The post he was preparing to fill was important and of such high profile, he was hand picked from across the Army to do so. A rising star, his potential was undeniable.” (The Globe & Mail) Col. Parker was the seventh Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year and the 145th Canadian soldier killed as part of the mission in the past eight years.
Col. Parker was born and raised in Oakville, Ont. A 1990 graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Parker was married with a son and a daughter, according to his military biography. “On behalf of everyone in Oakville, I want to express my deep condolences to Col. Parker’s family and to express our town’s sense of loss,” said Oakville Mayor Rob Burton. “He’s the first soldier from Oakville killed in Afghanistan, and all of us grieve for his family, and all of us know that our community has lost one of its best and brightest souls.” (CBC) The city has ordered that all flags on public buildings be flown at half-mast until after Col. Parker’s body is returned to Canada.
The attack was condemned by ISAF officials and by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who only recently returned to Kabul following a visit to Washington. “We are condemning the attack in the strongest terms. I hope Afghanistan will soon get out of this suffering, God willing,” he said at a news conference broadcast on national television. (BBC) “There were casualties among the NATO forces as well as among civilians – women, children and schoolchildren,” Mr. Karzai told the news conference. He also said the West was starting to realize the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and that the peace process must involve reconciling with the Taliban. “… it took us a lot of time to make them understand our intention… that our intention is to bring peace to Afghanistan and that militarily this war cannot succeed,” Karzai said. (Reuters)
In Washington, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said in a statement, “While our troops are fighting for a better future for the Afghan people, the Taliban offers only destruction, and they have so little respect for humanity that they would murder Afghan civilians waiting for a bus.” (Washington Post)
The U.S. and Afghan governments “remain steadfast in our determination to build security, stability and opportunity for Afghanistan,” Burton said. (Washington Post) “This sort of desperate brutality and aggression reminds us of the pessimism of an enemy who seeks to kill the innocent and to stop the progress of securing a better future for this country,” said Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, an ISAF spokesman. (Washington Post) NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the attack would not deter the alliance from its mission to “protect the Afghan people and strengthen Afghanistan’s ability to resist terrorism.” (Washington Post) The American Embassy also condemned the attack, which accused the Taliban of “callous disregard” for the lives of ordinary Afghans. (New York Times)
British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt also condemned the strike and said the British and international commitment “to support the Afghan government and people to work for a political solution through the peace jirga at the end of this month will not be shaken.” (CNN) The jirga is an assembly of tribal elders. President Karzai wants the elders to support a reintegration plan for Taliban members who renounce violence and lay down their arms.
The bombing occurred a week after a Taliban group issued a statement warning of “ambushes, detonations of explosive devices, assassinations of government officials, suicide bombings and detainment of foreign invaders.” (Washington Post) Until Tuesday, the worst Taliban attack in the capital occurred on Feb. 26 when armed assailants stormed a pair of guest houses used by Indian nationals, killing 17 people. More than 200 ISAF soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year.