The attack occurred in the heart of what's considered the most secure part of the city
It's renewing doubts over the Afghan authorities' ability to keep people safe
As Afghanistan mourned another deadly attack Sunday – one that raises questions about the potential for stability in the region – a top American general says US victory in Afghanistan is still a possibility.
An attacker driving an ambulance packed with explosives detonated them Saturday in the Afghan capital of Kabul, leaving 95 people dead and 191 others injured, Afghan officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Saturday attack, which injured 235 people, including 30 police officers, Kabul police chief Basir Mojahid said. It comes a week after militants stormed a Kabul hotel and killed scores in a 12-hour standoff.
Flags were flown at half-staff nationwide after the latest attack. The government set aside Monday as a public holiday and Tuesday as a day of prayer for the victims, according to presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi.
The blast occurred around 12:45 p.m. local time after the vehicle passed through a security checkpoint, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told CNN.
Police identified the attacker at a second checkpoint, Rahimi said, but couldn’t stop him before he detonated the explosives in a central area near the old Interior Ministry building, a hospital and diplomatic buildings.
The attack, in the heart of what’s considered the most secure part of the city, renewed doubts over Afghan authorities’ ability to keep people safe.
Meanwhile, the head of US Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, told CNN that the attacks do nothing to dampen the United States’ resolve to help Afghanistan, and that victory in the war-torn country remains “absolutely, absolutely” possible.
Afghanistan has had a deadly few days, with ISIS attacking an office of the aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, killing at least four people and injuring dozens.
Last weekend, gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing at least 22 people during a 12-hour standoff with Afghan security forces. Six gunmen were killed. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that assault.
But Saturday’s bombing was not just another attack in the Afghan capital, CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh said.
Strategy change for Taliban?
The Taliban’s swift claim of responsibility also was in marked contrast to a March attack on a key military hospital in Kabul that killed at least 30 people, many of them doctors and injured soldiers, Paton Walsh said.
This time, the Taliban had no such qualms, Paton Walsh said. It’s possibly a sign the Taliban doesn’t want to lose out to its younger, nastier competitor insurgency in the extremism stakes. A year ago, medical facilities were off-limits; now, an ambulance can be used as a bomb.
US President Donald Trump condemned the attack, saying in a statement, “This murderous attack renews our resolve and that (of) our Afghan partners. The Tablian’s cruelty will not prevail. The United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists who would target Americans, our allies, and anyone who does not share their wicked ideology. Now, all countries should take decisive action against the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure that supports them.”
“This murderous attack renews our resolve and that (of) our Afghan partners,” Trump said in a statement.
“The Taliban’s cruelty will not prevail. The United States is committed to a secure Afghanistan that is free from terrorists who would target Americans, our allies, and anyone who does not share their wicked ideology. Now, all countries should take decisive action against the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure that supports them.”
The head of the UN mission in Afghanistan said the attack was “nothing short of an atrocity” that targeted a civilian area.
“While the Taliban claim suggested the purpose of the attack was to target police, a massive vehicle bomb in a densely populated area could not reasonably be expected to leave civilians unharmed,” Tadamichi Yamamoto said in a statement.
More US troops coming
The latest attack comes at a seminal moment in the 16-year Afghanistan War, Paton Walsh said.
Hundreds more US troops are en route to Afghanistan to begin a much riskier mission: training Afghan troops outside the wire. There will be Americans on the front line who know that combat may be part of their mission and who may die, Paton Walsh said.
Speaking at an airbase outside Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, Gen. Votel said the recent attacks have served only to bolster the US commitment to Afghanistan.
“(The attacks do) not impact our commitment to Afghanistan, our commitment to the mission and seeing this through and our commitment about making sure that the Afghan national security forces have what they need to deal with this particular enemy,” he told CNN. “As horrible as this is, to me, it strengthens our resolve to help them move forward.”
Votel was in Jordan for a ceremony celebrating the delivery of Black Hawk helicopters to the nation. There, he also emphasized US commitment to its Arab ally, which borders Israel, Syria and Iraq.
“Jordan has been a fantastic partner for a number of years,” the general said. “I think what you saw in our demonstration here today is the maturity of our relationship. Jordanians are operating top-of-the-line equipment and doing a great job with it.”
Votel was also pressed on an issue closer to Jordan – a Turkish demand that the US withdraw its troops from Manbij, in northern Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, so as to allow Turkish forces to take on US-backed Kurdish forces in the region. He said such a withdrawal wasn’t in the offing.
“Right now, it’s not something we’re looking into,” he said.
CNN’s Ehsan Popalzai reported from Kabul, Faith Karimi wrote from Atlanta and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh, Nick Paton Walsh and Eliott C. McLaughlin, and journalist Bilal Sarwary contributed to this report