Blast, gunbattle at Afghan VP candidate's office, 20 dead

Blast, gunbattle at Afghan VP candidate's office
An Afghan security force walks past a burnt vehicle after Sunday’s attack at the site in Kabul, Afghanistan July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Kabul: The political office of the Afghan president's running mate was hit by a large explosion and stormed by several gunmen who remained holed up inside, Afghan officials said Sunday.

The attack in the capital, Kabul, killed at least 20 people and injured over 50 others and came on the first day of campaigning for presidential elections, scheduled for late September.

Vice-presidential candidate and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh were "evacuated from the building and moved to a safe location," said Nasrat Rahimi, the interior ministry spokesman.

He said that while the gunbattle was still ongoing, the first and second floors of the building had been cleared by security forces. He said two attackers were still inside and that one gunman had been killed in the shootout.

President Ashraf Ghani also tweeted that Saleh was unharmed in the "complex attack" targeting the Green Trend party headquarters.

At least two people, including a woman, were killed and 25 wounded, according to Wahidullah Mayar, the health ministry spokesman. Ferdous Faramarz, the spokesman for Kabul's police chief, said the explosion was likely a suicide car bomb.

Blast, gunbattle at Afghan VP candidate's office
Afghan security forces keep watch near the site of a powerful blast in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The blast was large enough to be heard throughout the capital. No one immediately claims responsibility for the attack, but both Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group are active in the capital and have carried out attacks in the past.

President Ghani is seeking a second term on promises of ending the 18-year war but has been largely sidelined over the past year as the U.S. has negotiated directly with the Taliban, who view the Kabul government as an American puppet.

The Taliban effectively control around half the country and have continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces.

Elsewhere, a Taliban suicide bomber killed four police officers early Sunday in an attack on a police station in the eastern Ghazni province, according to Ahmad Khan Serat, a spokesman for the provincial police.

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is currently visiting Kabul, has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months in a bid to end America's longest war.

The two sides appear to be closing in on an agreement in which the US would withdraw its forces in return for a pledge from the Taliban to keep the country from being used as a launchpad for global attacks.

The Taliban and the Islamic State group's affiliate in Afghanistan are sharply divided over ideology and tactics, with the Taliban largely confining their attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces.

The Taliban and IS have fought each other on a number of occasions, and the Taliban are still the larger and more imposing force.

Blast, gunbattle at Afghan VP candidate's office
Afghan security forces keep watch near the site of a powerful blast in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

India condemns Kabul terrorist attack

New Delhi: India on Sunday strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Kabul on the political office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's running mate.

The attack came on the first day of campaigning for Afghan presidential elections.

"India strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Kabul today in which a number of innocent Afghans were killed. India expresses its deepest condolences with the families of the deceased," the Ministry of External Affairs said.

"This dastardly attack was also aimed at undermining the constitutional and democratic processes and institutions in Afghanistan," the MEA said.

It said India stands in solidarity with the government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to achieve enduring peace, security and stability in the country.

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