KABUL, Afghanistan – Separate attacks by suicide bombers — one targeting President Ashraf Ghani’s election rally and a second that ripped through the center of the Afghan capital — killed at least 48 people and wounded scores more Tuesday in the deadliest single day since a peace agreement with Taliban insurgents was declared dead.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both blasts, saying an explosives-laden motorcycle targeted Ghani’s election rally being held on the outskirts of Charakar in northern Parwan Province. Ghani was present but unhurt, his campaign chief said. In that explosion, 26 people were killed, according to Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Four among the dead were Afghan military personnel. Another 42 people were wounded, many of them women and children.
In the second bombing, just hours later in the heart of Kabul not far from the U.S. Embassy, the Taliban said they were targeting an Afghan army base. They killed 22 people, government officials said. Scores more were wounded.
The violence comes as Afghanistan faces presidential elections on Sept. 28 — a vote the Taliban vehemently opposes. The insurgent group has warned Afghans not to vote and said their fighters would target campaigns as well as polling stations.
The bomber who attacked Ghani’s rally detonated his explosives at the entrance to the event, according to Hamed Aziz, a spokesman from Ghani’s campaign office. But Aziz said the explosion occurred some distance from where Ghani was addressing a crowd of about 2,200.
Ghani condemned both attacks. “By continuing their crimes, the Taliban have once again proven that they have no will and desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and that all their movements are nothing but deceit,” Ghani said in a statement.
There were many women and children among the casualties in the bombing near Ghani’s rally, said Dr. Qasim Sangin, a local official.
Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the attack in the heart of the Afghan capital took place near Massood Square, a deeply congested intersection in the center of the city. NATO and U.S. compounds are located nearby, as are several Afghan government ministries.
Taliban spokesm Zabiullah Mujahid said the bomber targeted presidential guards who were protecting Ghani and the rally, along with other members of the security forces. Four military personnel were among the dead.
Campaigning resumed last week after President Donald Trump declared that the U.S.-Taliban talks, which have been going on for months in Qatar, are over. Most presidential candidates had suspended their campaigns while negotiations were taking place and as the U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a deal was all but signed. Trump’s tweets declaring the deal and the talks were “dead” launched the war-battered nation on an election campaign.
Ghani, who had been sidelined during much of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, resumed campaigning immediately, demanding that voting should take place.
Khalilzad and some of Ghani’s rivals, however, had talked of establishing an interim administration to run the country while a peace deal was implemented.
In the aftermath of the scrapped talks, Afghans braced for an increase in violence. The Taliban has refused to discuss a cease-fire and has stepped up attacks across the country. Meanwhile, Afghan forces, backed by their U.S. allies, have intensified raids on militant hideouts in recent weeks.