Blast, gunshots as Taleban raid Kabul diplomatic quarter

Members of Afghan Crisis Response Unit arrive at the site of the attack in Kabul.
Members of Afghan Crisis Response Unit arrive at the site of the attack in Kabul.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (AFP) – A massive Taleban car bomb and gunfire rocked Kabul’s diplomatic quarter Friday in a deadly assault near the Spanish embassy, officials said, the latest in a string of high-profile insurgent attacks.

At least one person – a Spanish policeman – was confirmed dead in the ongoing attack, which comes as the Afghan government scrambles to revive long-stalled peace talks with the insurgents.

Security men near the embassy ducked from gunshots as they hauled away a limp body and two wounded men – one bleeding from the head, the other a policeman with a gunshot wound to his leg – through the dark to a waiting ambulance, an AFP photographer saw.

The embassy was earlier reported to be the target of the attack, but Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy clarified that the assault was nearby and not on the compound.

“It was an attack against some guesthouses very near the embassy,” Rajoy said, confirming a Spanish policeman had been killed and all embassy staff had been evacuated.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the target was a foreign guest house.

Afghan special forces had cordoned off the area in Sherpur district in central Kabul, where a huge car bomb struck during rush hour on Friday evening, followed by bursts of gunfire.

Ambulances and fire brigades with wailing sirens were seen rushing to the area.

Sherpur is home to several foreign NGOs and the residences of senior government officials, including former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s first vice-president.

Friday’s assault follows a deadly Taleban siege of Kandahar airport this week as the militants ramp up attacks despite the onset of the harsh winter season, when the fighting usually winds down.

It also comes after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s high-profile visit to Pakistan, where he shored up international support to restart peace talks with the Taleban.

At least 50 people, including women and children, died in the 27-hour Taleban siege of Kandahar airport, the largest military installation in southern Afghanistan.

Eleven suicide attackers on Tuesday breached the high-security complex which also houses a joint Nato-Afghan base, taking families hostage and triggering pitched firefights with soldiers.

As the country grappled with the aftermath, Afghanistan’s spy chief on Thursday quit his post, laying bare disagreements with Ghani over his diplomatic outreach to Pakistan, long blamed for nurturing the Taleban.

The resignation of Rahmatullah Nabil on Thursday highlights the domestic backlash Ghani faces over his attempts to repair strained relations with Islamabad.

The president has staked considerable political capital in advocating bonhomie with Afghanistan’s neighbour.

Ghani shrugged off Nabil’s criticism on Friday, saying Pakistan was a necessary partner in restarting peace talks aimed at ending his country’s long war.

“Without positive support from Pakistan, won’t the war in Afghanistan keep dragging on?,” Ghani asked a press conference on Friday.

“If one of the main sources of instability in Afghanistan is our neighbour... then there is a comprehensive need to work together to end this fighting.” But the Taleban rebuffed his remarks.

“The mujahideen are making rapid military gains, capturing territory and destroying enemy centres,” Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter.

“Expecting us to surrender and come for talks is foolishness.”