Two attacks by suicide bombers have killed at least 48 people and wounded scores more in Afghanistan in the deadliest single day since a peace agreement with Taliban insurgents was declared dead.
The first attack targeted President Ashraf Ghani’s election rally and a second ripped through the centre of the Afghan capital
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both blasts, saying an explosives-laden motorcycle targeted Mr Ghani’s election rally on the outskirts of Charakar in northern Parwan province. Mr Ghani was present but unhurt, his campaign chief said.
In that explosion, 26 people were killed, according to Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Four of the dead were Afghan military personnel, he said. Another 42 people were wounded, many of them women and children.
The second bombing came hours later, not far from the US embassy in the heart of Kabul. The Taliban said they were targeting an Afghan army base. They killed 22 people, government officials said, and scores more were wounded.
The violence came as Afghanistan faces presidential elections on September 28 — a vote the Taliban vehemently oppose. The insurgent group has warned Afghans not to vote in the election and said their fighters would target election campaigns as well as polling stations.
The bomber who attacked Mr Ghani’s rally detonated his explosives at the entrance to the rally, according to Hamed Aziz, a spokesman form the president’s campaign office, but he said the explosion occurred some distance from where Mr Ghani was addressing a crowd of about 2,200.
Mr Ghani condemned both attacks, saying: “By continuing their crimes, the Taliban have once again proven that they have no will and desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and that all their movements are nothing but deceit.”
There were many women and children among the casualties in the bombing near Mr Ghani’s rally, said Dr Qasim Sangin, a local official.
Local television footage of the attack showed twisted wreckage and charred remains of military and police vehicles that were apparently positioned near the powerful blast
Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the attack in the heart of the Afghan capital took place near Massood Square, a congested intersection in the centre of the city. Nato and US compounds are located nearby as are several Afghan government ministries.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, released a statement to the media saying Taliban suicide bombers were behind both attacks.
In Parwan, Mr Mujahid said the bomber targeted presidential guards protecting Mr Ghani and the rally, along with other members of the security forces.
Campaigning for the Afghan elections resumed last week after President Donald Trump declared that the US-Taliban talks, which have been going on for months in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, are over.
Most presidential candidates had suspended their campaigns while negotiations were taking place and as the US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a deal was all but signed.
Mr Trump’s tweets at the beginning of September declaring the deal and the talks were “dead” launched the war-battered nation on an election campaign.
Mr Ghani, who had been sidelined during much of the talks between Mr Khalilzad and the Taliban, resumed campaigning immediately and had been steadfast in his demand that presidential polls should take place.
But Mr Khalilzad and some of Mr Ghani’s rivals had talked of establishing an interim administration to run the country while a peace deal was implemented.
After the talks were scrapped, Afghans braced for an increase in violence. The Taliban have refused to discuss a ceasefire and have stepped up attacks across the country. Meanwhile, Afghan forces backed by their US allies have intensified raids on militant hideouts in recent weeks.