The Taliban took aim at Afghanistan’s intelligence services on Wednesday, killing six people and wounding more than 30 in two separate attacks, including a suicide bombing on a bus in the capital, officials said.
The attacks follow a surprise visit to Kabul a day earlier by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who praised advances made against the insurgency while noting that the gains were “fragile and reversible.” Mr. Biden left Afghanistan for neighbouring Pakistan Wednesday morning.
In Kabul, a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up next to a minibus carrying intelligence service employees to work, killing four and wounding 29, President Hamid Karzai’s office and health officials said. About an hour later in the troubled eastern province of Kunar, a remote-controlled roadside bomb killed an intelligence service colonel and his driver, and wounded two bodyguards, said Abdul Saboor Allahyar, deputy chief of Kunar’s provincial police.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Insurgents often target Afghan security officials, although over the past few months the nation’s capital has been largely spared the worst of the major attacks in the country.
The powerful blast in Kabul struck on a busy road during the morning rush-hour, shattering the windows of dozens of houses. The suicide bomber’s body lay in the street near the wreckage of his motorbike as police and intelligence officials cordoned off the area.
Mr. Karzai’s office issued a statement saying the attack had killed four people. The president condemned the bombing, calling it “an act against humanity and against Islam.”
Public Health Ministry spokesman Gulam Sakhi Kargar said a total of 29 people were wounded.
NATO also condemned the attack, saying it had killed at least one intelligence service member and one civilian, and wounded at least 32 people.
The Taliban has proven resilient in the face of the U.S.-led military coalition’s nearly decade-long war. Although NATO poured more than 30,000 extra troops into the country last year to pressure the insurgents’ traditional strongholds in the south, the Taliban have boosted their operations elsewhere, launching attacks across the north and east.
An extra contingent of 1,400 U.S. Marines are to be deployed in the coming months in the southern province of Helmand, which along with neighbouring Kandahar have seen some of the fiercest fighting.
NATO says its campaign so far has had a significant impact. The alliance’s spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, said that “thousands of insurgent leaders have been killed or captured and several thousand fighters have been taken off the battlefield” in the past year.
Ms. Lungescu described the guerrilla war as an “industrial strength” insurgency, but disputed recent estimates from military and diplomatic officials at NATO headquarters that placed Taliban forces at up to 25,000 fighters. She called such estimates “highly unreliable,” and said focusing on the numerical strength of the Taliban misrepresents gains made by the alliance in the past year.
“There has never been a single reliable source for the size of the insurgency. Numbers referred to a year ago were certainly based on best guess estimates at that time,” Ms. Lungescu said in e-mailed comments, adding that estimates at the end of 2009 “were anywhere from 25,000 to 35,000.”
Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said on Wednesday that no official Afghan government figures were available, but he estimated the size of the Taliban was between 25,000 and 35,000 people.