A powerful suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul killed at least 18 people today, including five Americans and at least 12 Afghanistan civilians.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing, the deadliest attack in Kabul in months. It comes as Afghan officials are preparing to hold a jirga, or council, in Kabul to discuss peace and reconciliation with insurgents.
The bombing killed six NATO officials, five of them American, reports the Associated Press. NATO officials did not disclose the nationality of the sixth.
In addition to at least 12 Afghan civilians who were killed, more than 47 were wounded.
Many had been on a public bus that was caught in the blast, according to Afghan officials. The Taliban told the AP in a phone call that the NATO convoy was the target of the attack, which was carried out by a man from Kabul using a car packed with 1,650 pounds of explosives.
The attack took place on a busy thoroughfare near the Afghan parliament building and a military recruiting and training center, reports McClatchy.
It comes on the heels of a three-month campaign by the government to stop attacks on Kabul, during which officials said they arrested more than 115 suspects, including some planning suicide attacks on the capital.
That effort to tighten security came after a Feb. 26 attack, when the Taliban targeted hotels and guesthouses serving foreigners, killing 16 people.
Today’s attack is the first major one since then, and, according to Agence France-Presse, the deadliest attack on the capital in more than a year. But the government offensive only appears to have hardened militants.
The Taliban last week announced a new nationwide offensive against US and coalition forces in the country, vowing to use suicide attacks and roadside bombings to hit foreign troops, contractors, and diplomats, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. Afghan and US officials dismissed the threat as propaganda, though NATO officers said they would continue to remain vigilant against attacks.
The attack took place just before Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, was scheduled to speak to the press after returning from his visit to the US.
Karzai’s May 11-13 trip to Washington was an attempt to shore up a rocky relationship between the two nations, and to discuss Afghan attempts to convince some fighters to leave the insurgency, and to discuss an upcoming NATO and Afghan offensive in Kandahar, a southern stronghold of the Taliban.
But McClatchy reported Monday that the Kandahar offensive has effectively been put on hold:
Key military operations have been delayed until the fall, efforts to improve local government are having little impact, and a Taliban assassination campaign has brought a sense of dread to Kandahar’s dusty streets.
NATO officials once spoke of demonstrating major progress by mid-August, but US commanders now say the turning point may not be reached until November, and perhaps later.
At the urging of Afghan leaders, U.S. officials have stopped describing the plan as a military operation. Instead, they’ve dubbed it “Cooperation for Kandahar,” a moniker meant to focus attention on efforts to build up local governance while reducing fears of street battles.