Two suicide blasts rocked Kabul on Wednesday, killing eight Afghan soldiers and injuring at least 21 people a day after the new Afghan government signed an agreement to keep U.S. troops in the country, officials said.
An Afghan army bus and a car carrying army personnel were struck by suicide bombings in separate incidents, said Deputy Interior Minister Gen. Ayoub Salanghi.
The first blast, near Kabul University in the west of the capital, targeted a bus transporting members of the Afghan National Army, leaving seven soldiers dead and injuring 15 others, officials said.
That assault was followed almost immediately by a suicide attack in the Deh-e Sabz district that killed one soldier and wounded six people, including three civilians, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks, as well as for a roadside bomb in the southern province of Kandahar that injured four police officers in Maiwand district.
Twitter accounts purportedly belonging to the Taliban claimed that “around 20 officers” were killed in the first attack in Kabul, and in a statement the group condemned new President Ashraf Ghani’s government as a foreign “stooge regime.” The group has been known to exaggerate death tolls in attacks for which it claims responsibility.
U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham dismissed claims that the attacks were a response to the bilateral security agreement, or BSA, that Ghani’s government signed with the United States on Tuesday. The agreement spells out conditions for maintaining the approximately 9,800 U.S. troops that are expected to remain in Afghanistan after December, when the mandate of the current U.S.-led NATO coalition ends.
“The Taliban have consistently been trying to launch attacks in the nation,” Cunningham said at a news briefing at the embassy. “This has nothing to do with the BSA.”
The pact had long been sought by the Obama administration, which wants the U.S. troops to remain until at least 2016 to continue training Afghan forces and ease fears of a security breakdown.
In recent months, as Afghan political leaders struggled to form a unity government following a disputed election, Taliban fighters made gains in several key provinces, including Kunduz in the north, Ghazni in the east and Helmand in the south.
Cunningham said the Taliban and their allies have been trying to “test the capability ... and see if they can split the Afghan national security forces.” The U.S. envoy praised the performance of the 330,000 Afghan soldiers and police, saying they have taken the lead in the fight against the Taliban, with international forces playing a very small combat role.
Also Wednesday, Ghani ordered the reopening of the colossal Kabul Bank corruption case, which saw nearly $1 billion stolen from the nation’s largest private financial institution in 2009-2010 in what investigators described as a Ponzi scheme.
Ghani ordered the attorney general’s office and other law enforcement agencies to track down evidence, and tasked the Finance Ministry, central bank and other institutions to retrieve stolen funds.
Two former chiefs of the bank were sentenced to jail terms and received hefty fines last year, but anti-corruption watchdogs said the verdicts were too lenient and did not guarantee that the stolen funds would be recovered.
The scandal at the bank, which had more than 1 million depositors, required a government bailout, nearly forced the collapse of Afghanistan’s banking sector and raised serious questions among Afghans and international donors about the stability of the country’s financial system.
High-level aides to Ghani and his former election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, now chief executive in the unity government, have also been implicated in the bank’s collapse. But Ghani has vowed to stamp out corruption, and in August called the prosecution of Kabul Bank officials the “symbol and signal” of the new government’s anti-fraud efforts.
Latifi is a special correspondent. Staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Mumbai, India.