World News

Car Bomb Explodes in Afghanistan, Killing 16, as Team Tries to Defuse It

Posted May 22, 2018 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2018 5:42 p.m. EDT

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — At least 16 people, including security personnel and bystanders, were killed Tuesday as bomb disposal experts tried and failed to defuse explosives in a parked car in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghan officials said.

Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province, said the car had been parked in an auto repair garage in the center of the city. Four of the 16 people killed were members of the security forces, Ahmadi said, adding that an additional 38 people were wounded. Most of the casualties were civilians, he said, and some were children.

The Kandahar explosion came a day after the Taliban warned that they were planning attacks on government, police and intelligence facilities in Kabul, the capital, and asked civilians to stay away from such institutions.

The statement included an unsupported claim that the insurgents had brought about an “unprecedented” decrease in civilian casualties. United Nations figures on civilian casualties in Afghanistan show a slight decrease in 2017 from the previous year, but the numbers remained at historically high levels, with two-thirds of them caused by the insurgents.

In Kandahar, local authorities said that Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate for Security, had found out about the car bomb in the garage, and that two of its bomb disposal experts were trying to defuse it when it exploded. They were killed along with two police officers guarding the scene, officials said.

Most of the victims were in the garage or passing nearby. Authorities said the bomb was so large that if it had detonated outside, it would have caused much more damage. It was also packed with suicide vests, and authorities said they believed it was meant to be used in an attack during the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which is being observed now.

In unrelated incidents, the Taliban carried out assaults on the government centers in two districts in the strategic southern province of Ghazni late Monday, killing at least 22 police officers, including two commanders. It was the continuation of more than a week of Taliban attacks in three areas of the province.

Ghazni province is important because control of it would block the main highway between Afghanistan’s two principal cities, Kabul and Kandahar.

Officials gave varying accounts of the death toll in the latest fighting in Ghazni, in the districts of Jaghatu and Dih Yak, and also on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Ghazni.

The Ghazni governor, Abdul Karim Matin, said that 22 security personnel were killed in the attacks, including the Dih Yak police chief, Faiz Mohammad Toofan, and the commander of a police reserve unit that was activated to help in the fight, Barakatullah Rasooli. The Taliban attacks were both driven back, he said.

A member of Ghazni’s provincial council, Naseer Ahmad Faqiri, said the Taliban had captured the Jaghatu police headquarters for the second time in a week, and complained that the province has not been a government priority.

“Since two weeks ago there has been big Taliban pressure on the provincial capital and most of the districts in the province,” he said, adding that 20 more security personnel were killed in fighting last week.

“The situation in Ghazni is getting worse day by day, and the casualties of the security forces are also increasing every day,” Faqiri said.

In a telephone interview, Matin said the insurgents were using superior night vision equipment, which the police do not have. “The police chief of Dih Yak district was shot with one gunshot to the chest, using sniper rifles and night vision goggles,” he said.

Also, the governor said, the insurgents regularly took advantage of the government’s reluctance to cause civilian casualties.

“The Taliban are using civilians as human shields, and we are not able to go after them in the villages and target them when civilians are with them,” he said. “We know that Taliban have presence in some of the mosques in Ghazni province, but we cannot bomb mosques. We have restrictions, but Taliban have no restrictions — they do what they want.”