KABUL: A busload of Nepali security guards were among 23 people killed in a string of bombings across Afghanistan Monday, days after Washington expanded the US military’s authority to strike the insurgents.
The Taliban claimed the first attack which killed 14 Nepali security guards working for the Canadian Embassy in Kabul in a massive blast that left their yellow mini bus spattered with blood.
The insurgents also claimed a second, smaller blast in south Kabul targeting a local politician that the interior ministry said killed one person and injured five others, including the politician.
The Kabul blasts were followed just hours later by an attack on a market in the remote northeastern province of Badakhshan that authorities said killed at least eight people and wounded 18, with the death toll set to rise.
The wave of violence comes ten days after Washington announced an expansion of the US military’s authority to conduct air strikes against the Taliban, a significant boost for Afghan forces who have limited close air-support capacities.
Last month the militants, who have stepped up attacks in recent weeks as part of their annual spring offensive, named Haibatullah Akhundzada their new leader, in a swift power transition after former head Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.
Police said the attack on the Nepali guards was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot shortly before 6:00 am (0130 GMT) on a main road leading east out of the capital towards the city of Jalalabad.
“As a result 14 foreigners were killed, all Nepali nationals,” the interior ministry said in a statement, adding that nine other people were wounded, including five Nepali citizens and four Afghans.
“@CanEmbAFG confirms that today’s cowardly attack targeted our security company,” the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan said on Twitter, offering condolences to the victims’ families and confirming that the attack did not breach the embassy compound.
The sound of the explosion could be heard across Kabul and a plume of smoke could be seen above the site of the blast on the Jalalabad road, a main route that houses many foreign compounds and military facilities.
More than two dozen ambulances rushed to the scene, an AFP journalist said, with police blocking off the road. The blast also shattered the windows of nearby shops.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, saying it was “against the forces of aggression” in Afghanistan.
Ramadan no deterrent
The Kabul blasts were followed by a motorcycle bomb in a crowded market in Keshim district of Badakhshan.
“Our initial information is eight people were martyred, and 18 others were wounded, all the victims are civilians,” the Badakhshan provincial governor’s spokesman Naweed Froutan told AFP, adding that the death toll is set to rise.
The district governor of Keshim, where the attack took place, gave a higher toll of at least ten killed and 30 wounded.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for that attack. Mountainous Badakhshan had been relatively peaceful until the Taliban briefly captured Kunduz city last year, with insecurity spreading into other northeastern provinces.
The blasts in Kabul are the first in the capital since the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan two weeks ago. The Taliban have rejected the government’s call for a ceasefire over the month.
The resurgent militants have been fighting against the Western-backed Kabul government since they were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in late 2001.
US forces have been in an advisory role in Afghanistan since the start of 2015 and had only been authorised to hit Taliban targets for defensive reasons, or to protect Afghan soldiers.
The recent changes mean US troops can now work more closely with local fighters in striking the Taliban, who have demanded the departure of all foreign forces.
The last attack in the Afghan capital on April 19 left 64 dead and more than 340 wounded, and was also claimed by the Taliban.
Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travellers.