15 killed in bloody day of Afghan violence
KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban militants launched a suicide attack on an election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, March 25, as 15 people died in violence around Afghanistan less than a fortnight before the country's presidential poll.
The insurgents have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the ballot on April 5, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to election day.
Five people were killed when the insurgents stormed an office of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in the west of the capital.
Elsewhere, five civilians were killed in a suicide bombing in northern Kunduz province, while a militant attack on a bank in eastern Kunar also left five dead.
In the Kabul incident, Afghan security forces battled the attackers for more than four hours before finally quelling the onslaught.
"At around 11:35 am (0705 GMT) a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of an IEC regional office in Darulaman, and then several other attackers entered the building," Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Estanakzai said.
The dead included two policeman and a provincial council candidate, the interior ministry said in a statement. Five attackers were killed by security forces, according to ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
The attack was close to the home of Ashraf Ghani, who is seen as a frontrunner in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
The former World Bank economist was out of Kabul at the time, campaigning in the eastern province of Paktia, and Ghani said on Twitter that his family, who were in the house, were safe.
The Kunduz blast came at a venue where another leading presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, is due to hold a rally on Wednesday, provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
Three gunmen struck in the attack on the Kunar bank, provincial governor Shuja-ul-Mulk Jalala said, as police lined up to collect their pay.
The Taliban, who have led the insurgency against Karzai's government and its foreign backers since 2001, claimed the Kabul attack in a statement on their website.
On Thursday, four Taliban gunmen stormed Kabul's Serena hotel and shot dead nine civilians, including Agence France-Presse journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of his three children.
Ahmad's youngest son Abuzar, two, remained in hospital Tuesday with serious wounds suffered in the attack. His condition was showing signs of improving, according to doctors.
The carnage at the Serena prompted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to pull out a 15-strong team that had been due to support the Afghan authorities in holding the election.
The Serena attack came on the same day that seven Taliban suicide attackers invaded a police station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing 10 policemen.
And last Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 16 people at a crowded market in the northern province of Faryab. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack.
Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls.
Another bloodstained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive intervention in Afghanistan has made progress in establishing a functioning state. – Rappler.com
US-led NATO combat troops are withdrawing from the country after 13 years of fighting the Islamist insurgency, which erupted when the Taliban were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Relations between Karzai and the US have been severely strained over the president's decision not to sign an agreed deal for a small US force to remain in Afghanistan from 2015 on counter-terrorism and training operations.
Apart from Ghani, the other leading election candidates are Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in 2009, and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul.