At least 28 people were killed and 327 others wounded in a Taliban suicide attack in central Kabul on Tuesday, the Afghan Health Ministry said.
“Many of those wounded are in serious condition,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi told AFP.
Earlier, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a statement, said that several people were killed in the blast during the morning rush hour.
The attack that apparently targeted theoffices of Afghanistan`s main security agency was followed by a heavy firefight.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack near government offices, which sent clouds of acrid smoke billowing in the sky and rattled windows several kilometres (miles) away. Notably, the blast took place a week after the Taliban announced the commencement of their annual spring offensive.
“(We) condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of Kabul, as a result of which many of our countrymen were martyred and wounded,” Ghani said in a statement without specifying the number.
“Such cowardly terrorist attacks will not weaken the will and determination of Afghan security forces to fight against terrorism,” Ghani said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed their fighters had managed to enter the offices of the National Directorate of Security, the main spy agency.
Afghan officials did not confirm that claim but intense gun battles could be heard near the NDS compound. The Taliban are generally known to exaggerate battlefield claims.
“The first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber in a car and possibly one or two bombers are still resisting,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.
“The scene of the attack has been completely cordoned off by Afghan security forces.” The Taliban on Tuesday last week announced the start of their “spring offensive” even as the government in Kabul seeks to bring them back to the negotiating table to end the drawn-out conflict.
The Taliban warned they would “employ large-scale attacks on enemy positions across the country” during the offensive dubbed Operation Omari in honour of the movement`s late founder Mullah Omar, whose death was announced last year.
The insurgents began the fighting season last week by targeting the northern city of Kunduz, which they briefly captured last year in a stunning setback for Afghan forces.
But officials said Afghan security forces drove Taliban fighters back from the city on Friday.
The annual spring offensive normally marks the start of the “fighting season”, though this past winter the lull was shorter and rebels continued to battle government forces, albeit with less intensity.
The Taliban`s resurgence has raised serious questions about Afghan forces` capacity to hold their own. An estimated 5,500 troops were killed last year, the worst-ever toll.