Deadly blast targets Afghan president’s running mate

At least two people were killed and 25 others wounded on Sunday after the political office of the Afghan president’s running mate was hit by a large explosion and stormed by unknown attackers.

Nasrat Rahimi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the attack targeted the Green Trend party headquarters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but denied reports that vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh was wounded.

The Reuters news agency reported Saleh was hit by shrapnel before being safely evacuated from the office. Photographs shared by a government official showed Saleh sitting in a garden with bloodstains on his right arm. He was surrounded by security guards.

Ferdous Faramarz, a spokesman for Kabul’s police chief, said the explosion was likely a suicide car bomb and the gunfight was still ongoing after the assailants stormed the building following the blast.

Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said at least two people were killed and 25 wounded.

Complex attack

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have carried out attacks in the past in Kabul.

“The security forces have cordoned off the area. The security forces are trying to kill the attackers as soon as possible,” Rahimi said.

Saleh is an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other hardline groups. President Ashraf Ghani, Saleh and more than a dozen other Afghan politicians launched their presidential campaign on Sunday.

Ghani said in a tweet: “My brother, true son of the Afghan soil and first VP candidate of my electoral team, Amrullah Saleh has survived a complex attack by enemies of the state. We are relieved and thank the almighty that the attack has failed.”

Earlier on Sunday, a buoyant Ghani kicked off his campaign by insisting “peace is coming” and pivotal talks with the Taliban would take place.

Saleh, who commands strong support among Afghanistan’s minority ethnic Tajiks, was not immediately available for comment.

War and peace

Elsewhere, a Taliban suicide bomber killed four police early on Sunday in an attack on a police station in the eastern Ghazni province, according to Ahmad Khan Serat, a spokesman for the provincial police.

Ghani is seeking a second term on promises of ending the 18-year war, but has been largely sidelined over the past year as the United States has negotiated directly with the Taliban.

The armed group, who effectively control about half the country, have continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces with civilians caught in the crossfire.

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is currently visiting Kabul, has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months in a bid to end the US’s longest war.

The two sides appear to be closing in on an agreement in which the US would withdraw its forces in return for a pledge from the Taliban to keep the country from being used as a launchpad for global attacks.

The Taliban and the ISIL are sharply divided over ideology and tactics, with the Taliban largely confining its attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces.

The two armed groups have fought each other on a number of occasions, and the Taliban is still the larger and more imposing force.

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