KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A Taliban suicide car bomber targeted a police station the Afghan capital on Wednesday, killing 14 people and wounding 145, most of them civilians, officials said in what was one of the worst attacks in Kabul this year.
The shattering morning blast rocked much of the city, just a day after a U.S. envoy and the Taliban reported progress in their talks on negotiating an end to the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan. Many Afghans worry what will happen once the estimated 20,000 U.S. and NATO troops in the country return home.
The Taliban bomber detonated his explosives-packed car at a security checkpoint outside the police headquarters in a minority Shiite neighborhood in western Kabul, police spokesman Firdaus Faramarz said. A military training school is located nearby.
The Taliban said they had targeted a recruitment center for security forces.
Of the wounded, 92 were civilians, Deputy Interior Minister Khoshal Sadat told reporters. Four police officers were among those killed, he said.
The attack took place as many Kabul residents were busy preparing for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, which begins on Sunday. A large plume of smoke rose during morning rush hour. Some nearby buildings were left in rubble. Shopkeepers later swept up broken glass.
“I was having breakfast in a restaurant when the explosion happened,” said Mohmmad Qasem. As windows shattered, he and others rushed into the busy street.
Even as the U.S.-Taliban peace talks continue and the Taliban say they will do more to protect civilians, a growing number of civilians are being killed in Afghanistan. July saw the highest number of civilian casualties in a single month since 2017, with more than 1,500 killed or wounded as insurgent attacks spiked, the United Nations said earlier this month.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned Wednesday’s attack, saying in a Twitter post that “the terrorists aim to disrupt the presidential election campaign.”
Afghanistan’s presidential election, already delayed over security and organizational concerns, is set for Sept. 28. The Taliban on Tuesday issued a threat warning Afghans to boycott the polls and avoid campaign rallies which “could become potential targets.”
Any attack by the Taliban is a barrier to the peace process, presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters.
“The Taliban cannot pose any threat to our government, and the Afghan security forces are strong and can protect the Afghan population,” he said.
The Taliban have been staging near-daily attacks against Afghan forces across the country, saying the war will continue as long as U.S. and NATO forces are still in Afghanistan.
The Taliban now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled their government after it harbored al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Wednesday’s attack comes against the backdrop of another round of U.S.-Taliban talks this week in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where the insurgents maintain an office.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy tasked with finding a peaceful resolution to America’s longest conflict, this week reported “excellent progress” at the talks. A Taliban official said differences had been resolved over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Taliban guarantees that they will cut ties with other extremist groups.
Khalilzad has said he is hoping for a final agreement by Sept. 1. But the Taliban have continued to sideline the Kabul government, dismissing it as a U.S. puppet and refusing to negotiate with it.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government says attacks such as Wednesday’s apparently are meant to strengthen the Taliban position at the negotiating table but would not succeed.
Also on Wednesday, a sticky bomb wounded at least eight civilians, including women and children, in the western city of Herat, said Abdul Ahid Walizada, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
In eastern Kabul, security officials said overnight raids targeted three locations in residential areas from which the Islamic State group has been launching attacks. Three members of the security forces and two IS militants were killed, the officials said, and bomb-making materials were seized.
The IS’s affiliate in Afghanistan has carried out several large-scale attacks in Kabul, frequently targeting minority Shiites.
And in northern Baghlan province, security forces foiled an attack by insurgents, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.Â He said a suicide bomber in a Humvee tried to attack an Afghan base but was killed. No security forces were killed, Basharat said.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.