Dozens killed in Afghanistan as Taliban begins 'spring offensive'

Car-bomb attack and gun battle injure hundreds of people in a crowded area of Kabul

Afghan soldier
An Afghan soldier takes aim at the site of a car bomb attack in Kabul 
(Image credit: Shai Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more injured in a coordinated Taliban attack in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul.

The car bomb and gun attack occurred near key ministries and government offices, and marks the beginning of the militant group's annual "spring offensive".

What happened?

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A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb laden with explosives outside a compound used by the country's secret service during the morning rush hour.

A gun battle between insurgents and police officers and military personnel followed, killing at least 28 people and injuring more than 300, the vast majority of them civilians. It is unclear how many attackers were involved, but government sources said at least two militants were shot dead.

Gol Rabi Stanikzai, a police commander who was at the scene at the time, told The Guardian: "First it felt like an earthquake and then came the powerful sound of the explosion."

What is the spring offensive?

Last week, the Taliban announced the beginning of its spring offensive, vowing to step up attacks across the country in an attempt to drive the Western-backed government from power.

"Jihad against the aggressive and usurping infidel army is a holy obligation upon our necks and our only recourse for re-establishing an Islamic system and regaining our independence," the group said.

"The seasons have long shaped violence in Afghanistan, with fighting easing off in the winter, when mountain passes get snowed in, and picking up again in the spring and summer," says Reuters.

But Waheed Massoud, from the BBC's Afghan Service, says the Taliban's so-called spring offensive is simply part of a propaganda war. "The group fights all year round and so do the Afghan security forces," he says. "It is the story of the past 37 years."

The latest attack comes as the Afghan government and its international allies continue to push for peace talks, but many observers warn the insurgents are stronger than at any point since 2001.

"It has been buoyed by a flood of foreign fighters joining its ranks, and now controls sizeable parts of Afghanistan," says the BBC.

President Ashraf Ghani remained defiant, condemning today's attacks "in the strongest terms".

"Such cowardly terrorist attacks will not weaken the will and determination of Afghan security forces to fight against terrorism," he added.

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