Maryam Jan’s voice was shaking almost uncontrollably as we spoke on the phone. The truck bomb that hit the center of Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Tuesday morning was “huge, very huge,” said the 27-year-old journalist. “I haven’t seen and felt such a huge blast in my whole life in Kabul,” she said. “I was near the spot with my 4-year-old daughter and she turned mute for five minutes.”
Other witnesses reported similar shock. One police officer told the Associated Press that he could not see or hear anything after the detonation, which took place near the defense ministry, but nearer still to a crowded taxi stand, killing dozens of innocent civilians and injuring hundreds.
After the bombing, the Taliban battled security forces with automatic weapons before, finally, order was restored.
“The Taliban who are attacking us are cowardly, but we are just feebly and hopelessly watching,” said Maryam Jan. “No one could protect us from the Taliban, no one, not our Afghan forces, not the U.S. forces. The whole downtown of Kabul city has been turned over to terror and overwhelmed.” She sobbed over the phone. “I don’t know why the Taliban kill poor civilian Afghans.”
In fact, when Taliban bombs take a large civilian toll, the Taliban generally do not claim responsibility. But in this case they did.
A former intelligence official with the Afghan Taliban told The Daily Beast that Tuesday’s attack was meant to be the completion of a mission that failed last year, when a huge truck bomb killed numbers of Afghans and shattered hundreds of houses. This source said on that occasion the explosives-laden truck went off prematurely in the wrong place, so the Taliban did not claimed it.
“Today’s attack was carried out by the same cells,” according to this source, “but this time the truck bomb hit right near the target.”
Both the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Palace are close by. But most of the dead apparently had nothing to do with the targeted buildings. So I asked the Taliban intelligence officer what one could achieve by killing and crippling hundreds of Afghans.
“We know that’s the case,” he said, “but in this asymmetrical war we don’t have other options.”
Another Afghan Taliban source told The Daily Beast, “This year, we are in more aggressive frame of mind. We proved that we could attack in the countryside and come to Kabul to attack steps away from the president’s palace and the U.S. embassy. If the current Afghan government could not protect people in Kabul then people should come into the streets” to overthrow it, he said.
The so-called “Spring Offensive” has begun with a bang, and a horrific one at that.