KABUL (Reuters) - A truck bomb exploded near an army compound in Kabul on Friday, killing at least 15 people and wounding hundreds, police and government officials said, in the first major attack in the Afghan capital since the Taliban announced a new leader.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, which wounded people in their sleep and damaged homes and shops. A Taliban spokesman said the group was looking into the incident and the government said an investigation had begun.
The blast killed at least 15 people and wounded 248, President Ashraf Ghani’s office said.
“Last night’s attack was a cowardly terrorist attack against civilians,” presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi told reporters.
Friday’s explosion was the first bombing in Kabul since Mullah Akhtar Mansour took charge of the Taliban last week, and followed a rare truck bomb attack in an eastern province on Thursday.
“A truck bomb detonated close to an army compound,” said Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi.
The compound targeted was used by Afghan intelligence officials, said a Western security source who declined to be identified, because the topic is a sensitive one.
The Kabul bomb left a hole 10 meters (33 ft) deep in the heavily populated Shah Shadid district, reduced buildings to rubble, shattered windows and damaged cars, a Reuters witness said.
The blast was unusually powerful in a city often targeted by the Taliban and other militants seeking to destabilize the troubled unity government led by Ghani.
Smaller bombs or suicide attacks are a weekly occurrence in the heavily fortified capital, but large truck bombs are rare.
An official at the Emergency Hospital in Kabul said it had been flooded with almost 100 patients, including many women and children, seeking treatment for minor wounds caused by debris.
The Afghan war between the foreign-backed government and the Taliban has intensified since the NATO combat mission ended last year and most foreign troops were withdrawn.
Afghan security forces have been battling the Taliban with only limited support from coalition forces this year. About 4,000 soldiers and police are lost each month to casualties and desertions, the U.S. general in command has said.
Efforts to restart the peace process with the Taliban have stalled since the movement’s reclusive founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was revealed last week to have died two years ago.
A peace official and former senior Taliban member said there were still plans to continue the dialogue, but the timing and location of talks had yet to be decided.
Attention is now focused on internal tension in the Taliban over the question of succession, as Mansour’s swift appointment by a small council of leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta has angered others in the group.
Mansour is widely considered a pragmatist who backs peace talks but his first public message was a pledge to continue the insurgency, which has caused civilian casualties of almost 5,000 in the first half of the year, U.N. figures show.
Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez