KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A series of attacks that killed at least 44 people and wounded over 300 in one day has shattered the relative calm of Afghanistan's capital, even as some had hoped fledgling negotiations with the Taliban and the death of their figurehead could bring peace.
The attacks Friday in Kabul marked the highest number of civilians killed and wounded in a single day, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which began keeping its statistics in 2009. Even Saturday, as Afghans protested the violence and donated blood to victims, people remained on edge.
"I feel danger even now, right now as we are talking," said Kabul resident Mohammad Naeem. "And when I see the crowd of people I think maybe a suicide attack will take place with a car bomb or on a motorbike. Anything is possible."
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban, Kabul always has been the target of insurgent attacks. But Friday's attack included a massive truck bombing targeting a residential area in the capital that killed 15 people and wounded more than 200, something unusual. Security forces say they have thwarted a number of attempts to bring large caches of explosives into the capital and at least one truck bomb exploded this year while attempting to enter the city limits.
Friday's two other attacks included a suicide bomber attacking recruits outside a police academy, killing at least 20 cadets and wounding 24, as well as an attack on a NATO military base near Kabul's international airport. The NATO base attack killed one international service member and eight Afghan contractors, NATO spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said. The Afghan Interior Ministry said the assault wounded 10 local security guards, while three insurgents were killed.
NATO did not identify the nationality of the international trooper killed. The Taliban claimed the police academy attack and the NATO base assault, without mentioning the truck bombing. The insurgents often don't claim attacks that kill women and children.
U.S. and NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of last year. In the time since, Afghan security forces have been taking record casualties in their fight against insurgents across the country.
Civilians also have suffered. A recent U.N. report shows a 1 percent increase in civilian casualties in the first six months of the year, the overwhelming majority caused by the insurgents. Almost 5,000 people were killed or wounded during that time, the report said, with the number of women and children affected by the violence up 23 and 13 percent respectively.
Meanwhile Saturday in eastern Nangarhar province, a roadside bomb killed a traffic police officer and a civilian and wounded three near a checkpoint in Surkh Rod district, authorities said.
President Ashraf Ghani promised to retaliate against the perpetrators and linked the Kabul attacks to the recent announcement by his government that Taliban figurehead Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for more than two years.
The appointment of Mullah Omar's replacement, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, has sparked dissent within the Taliban. That's also raised questions about the peace process that Ghani has made pivotal to his presidency. After a series of informal talks, a first formal, face-to-face round of negotiations was held in Pakistan on July 7. The announcement of Mullah Omar's death saw future talks cancelled.
However, many seem to take Friday's bombings as a message that the Taliban won't quit fighting — and that Kabul remains a major target.
"Since the death of Mullah Omar, explosions are still happening," Kabul resident Mohammed Zahir said. "These problems have increased and we can't expect anything from the government."
Later Saturday, hundreds gathered at a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died. Many blamed Pakistan, long suspected of harboring insurgents, for allowing the attacks in Kabul to take place. They burned Pakistani currency with the candles lit to remember the dead.
"Our nation is in mourning," said Aryan Afghan, who took part in the vigil.