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44 dead, hundreds wounded in lethal wave of Kabul bombings

Beirut_car_bomb_400x300Eight more fatalities were confirmed Saturday from a barrage of bombings in Kabul, taking the toll to 44 in the deadliest day in the Afghan capital since the NATO combat mission ended in December.

The explosions on Friday, which devastated buildings and overwhelmed hospitals with hundreds of casualties, were the first major militant assaults on Kabul since the announcement of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death.

In the first attack, a powerful truck bomb tore through the centre of Kabul just after midnight on Friday, killing 15 civilians and wounding 240 others.

The Taliban distanced themselves from the bombing which struck near a Kabul military base — as they usually do in attacks that result in a large number of civilian casualties.

Less than 24 hours later, at least 20 people were killed when a suicide attacker dressed in police uniform blew himself up at the entrance of Kabul Police Academy.

The Taliban were quick to claim responsibility for that attack, which marked a serious breach of security at a premier training institute for Afghan security forces.

Explosions and gunfire also erupted when Camp Integrity, a US special forces base in Kabul, came under attack late Friday, killing nine people.

“One Resolute Support (NATO) service member and eight Resolute Support contracted civilians were killed,” a NATO statement said without revealing their nationalities.

Military jets were heard flying over the centre of Kabul shortly after the Camp Integrity explosions.

The carnage underscored the volatile security situation in Afghanistan amid a faltering peace process with the Taliban as Afghan forces face their first summer fighting season without full NATO support.

Friday’s bombings were the first major attacks after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was last week named as the new Taliban chief in an acrimonious power transition after the insurgents confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.

– ‘Capable, potent and operational’ –

Experts say the escalating violence demonstrates Mullah Mansour’s attempt to boost his image among Taliban cadres and drive attention away from internal divisions over his leadership.

“The new wave of attacks is a tactic by the Taliban’s new leadership to show they are capable, potent and operational,” said security analyst Abdul Hadi Khaled.

“The demise of Mullah Omar divided the movement and affected the morale of their ground fighters. Hitting Kabul with a wave of powerful attacks is a way of showcasing their strength.”

On Friday evening, a suicide attacker dressed in police uniform blew himself up at the entrance of Kabul Police Academy, killing at least 20 Afghan cadets who were returning after their two-day weekend.

The bomber managed to place himself in a queue as police trainees were waiting to be searched before entering the academy, said a senior Afghan intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

The official put the toll at 20 dead and 20 wounded. Another police official confirmed that toll while a third senior security source said 25 cadets were killed.

Anguished relatives of cadets gathered near the academy, which was cordoned off by heavily-armed security officials as ambulances with wailing sirens rushed to the scene.

The academy in west Kabul is a premier training institution for police forces in Afghanistan, with between 2,000 and 3,000 cadets graduating every year.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban — who were toppled from power in the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan — told AFP the insurgent group was behind the attack.

Earlier Friday, a truck packed with explosives detonated near an army base in the neighbourhood of Shah Shaheed, rattling homes across the city, ripping off the facades of buildings and leaving scattered piles of rubble.

The force of the explosion just after midnight created an enormous crater in the road, around 10 metres (30 feet) deep, and destroyed the boundary wall of the base, although no military casualties were reported.

That attack left 15 dead and 240 wounded, with women and children among those injured, according to deputy presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi.

Soldiers erected a security cordon around the military base close to Shah Shaheed, a largely middle-class civilian residential area with no major foreign presence.

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