This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned two Taliban attacks that killed at least 48 people and wounded dozens more in Afghanistan, 11 days before the country is set to hold a presidential election the militant group has vowed to disrupt.
“Through these attacks, the Taliban demonstrate blatant disregard for the people and institutions of Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in a statement. ” For Afghans to truly reconcile, the Taliban must begin to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace rather than continue the violence and destruction that causes such inordinate harm to the Afghan people and the future of their country.”
At least 26 people were killed and 42 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated explosives near an election rally attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on September 17, but Ghani was unhurt, officials say.
Later that day, another suicide blast rocked central Kabul, killing at least 22 people and wounding 38 others, according to the Interior Ministry.
Both attacks were claimed by the Taliban, which has threatened to step up attacks to discourage people from voting in the September 28 presidential election, where Ghani is seeking a second five-year term.
Ghani had just started delivering a speech at the rally in Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province, north of Kabul, when the first attack occurred.
Abdul Wasy Gulbahari, the provincial deputy police chief, told RFE/RL the explosion occurred outside the Ghani campaign gathering at the Police Educational Center.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the bomber had been on a motorbike and had detonated at the first checkpoint leading to the rally.
Abdul Qasim Sangin, head of the provincial hospital, told RFE/RL that 11 of those injured are in critical condition, including women and children.
“Ambulances are still operating, and the number of casualties may rise,” Sangin said.
“The president is unharmed,” an aide said.
The Interior Ministry said that six military personnel were among those killed in the suicide attack near the busy Massud Square in central Kabul. There were both women and children among those killed or wounded, it also said.
An Afghan official said the blast occurred near an army base and also near the U.S. Embassy.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attacks and said that “all Afghan citizens — whether voters, candidates, or election-related staff — have the right to be free from fear, intimidation, and violence.”
“Attacks against civilians are unacceptable and those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” a statement said.
Security at election rallies across the country has been tight following threats by the Taliban to attack meetings and polling stations.
Peace talks between the United States and the Taliban meant to reach a deal on the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops collapsed last week. The talks did not include the Afghan government.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, told the BBC that the “doors are open” for peace talks to resume.