Death Toll in Kabul Bombing Has Hit 150, Afghan President Says
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan president said that over 150 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded by the truck bombing outside the German Embassy last week, making it possibly the deadliest such attack since the American-led invasion in 2001.
The president, Ashraf Ghani, made the disclosure — increasing the death toll by more than 50 — during a speech at a one-day peace conference his government convened in the capital on Tuesday.
The meeting, called the Kabul Process, drew representatives of 20 countries and international organizations, but it included no one from the Taliban or other insurgent groups. Mr. Ghani’s own foreign minister apparently even boycotted the gathering, as antigovernment demonstrators continued to defy orders to leave camps they had set up in the city.
In what seemed to be a bid to create a safer environment for the event, Mr. Ghani on short notice declared Tuesday a national holiday, with the police blocking all except official traffic from the roads.
But shortly after the president opened the Kabul Process, at least one rocket was fired into the Green Zone nearby, the area that houses the headquarters of the coalition forces as well as several foreign embassies, the police said; the weapon landed at a tennis court close to the American military headquarters, but no one was injured. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack but have denied any role in the bombing last week.
The bombing, involving a sewage tanker truck that exploded at an entrance of the Green Zone, destroyed buildings in a wide radius.
That assault now has the highest officially confirmed death toll of any insurgent attack, but unofficial counts have been higher in other episodes, including a massacre at an army base in April, in which 160 were reported to have been killed.
After the blast on Wednesday, protesters, many of them members of the powerful northern Jamiat-i-Islami party, took to the streets, accusing government officials of cooperating with terrorists. The police fired at the crowds to suppress the demonstrations on Friday, killing nine. At the funeral on Saturday for one of the victims, the son of a prominent politician, three suicide bombers struck on foot, killing at least a dozen, according to local news media.
The skirmishes have since subsided, but demonstrators set up at least three camps and defied government orders to disband. One was at the wall of Emergency Hospital, one of the main trauma centers in the city, whose officials appealed to diplomats to persuade protesters to move away. But so far the protesters have not budged.
Despite heightened tensions, the government said it was determined to proceed with the peace conference on Tuesday, rather than be seen to be giving in to terrorism.
Mr. Ghani also rejected demands for the resignation of his national security adviser, Muhammad Hanif Atmar, who is an ethnic Pashtun, like the president. The protesters and the Jamiat party are dominated by Tajiks from the north, adding an ethnic dimension to the rallies.
The acting foreign minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, had said earlier that he would leave it to a council of the Jamiat party to decide whether he would attend the meetings. Mr. Rabbani is also the president of the Jamiat party.
No announcement was made, but Mr. Rabbani was not seen at the event on Tuesday, an embarrassment since his own ministry had organized it.
In his speech, Mr. Ghani made an impassioned appeal for international action against terrorism, equating the turmoil in his country with recent attacks by terrorists in the West.
At the funerals on Saturday, Mr. Ghani noted, one of the suicide blasts struck a man standing near the chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, who is his partner in a coalition government.
“Half of the body of a person standing less than two meters away from Dr. Abdullah ended up in one hospital, while the other half was taken to a different one,” the president said. Mr. Abdullah was unhurt.
That victim was a prominent cleric, Maulavi Jalal, a member of the National Ulema Council, whose body parts ended up in the Military Hospital and the Emergency Hospital.
Many Jamiat protesters have demanded that Mr. Abdullah resign from the government, which would create a political crisis, but he has declined to do so.
Mr. Abdullah had run for president on the Jamiat party ticket, but a dispute over election results ended in a negotiated National Unity Government with Mr. Ghani as president and Mr. Abdullah as his chief executive.
Mr. Ghani made no clear new initiatives at the peace talks but said the government was ready to meet with the Taliban anywhere and would agree to their opening an official office where representatives of both sides could convene.
Mr. Ghani also criticized efforts by the international community to initiate indirect talks with the Taliban, which has happened on several occasions in recent years.
“There are too many players running too many parallel tracks with too little clarity on who they are and what they represent,” he said. “We also ask that you respect the integrity of an Afghan-owned and -led consolidated process and not set up separate tracks of your own.”
He also accused Pakistan of carrying out “an undeclared war of aggression” on Afghanistan by maintaining sanctuaries for the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Pakistan was among the regional countries at the conference, but it sent relatively low-level representatives. The Taliban made no immediate comment on the gathering, but the group has previously refused to participate in peace talks until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.