KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday threatened a rapid and forceful response to a massive suicide truck bombing in the Afghan capital, which he said was aimed at diverting public attention from the Taliban's leadership struggle.
The blast in suburban Kabul, near a military base, happened at 1 a.m. Friday morning, killing 15 people and wounding 240. It was one of the largest ever in Kabul in terms of scale, flattening a city block and leaving a 30-foot crater in the ground. The blast was heard across the city of 4.5 million.
The president's office said 47 women and 33 children were among the casualties. The president's deputy spokesman Zafar Hashemi said about 40 of the wounded would remain hospitalized.
"We are still committed to peace. But we will respond to these sort of terrorist attacks with force and power," Ghani said in a statement, condemning the high civilian casualty count.
The Afghan intelligence agency announced more than a week ago that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive one-eyed founder and leader of the Taliban, had been dead for more than two years. This sparked a leadership struggle among senior Taliban figures, raising concerns of a succession crisis that could splinter the group.
The implications of the Kabul attack undermine claims by security services and the government that the capital is immune from devastating attacks.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The blast happened near a government complex and a military base and it's not clear whether they were the intended targets. It's also not known how the attackers smuggled a large amount of explosives into the heavily guarded city.
The Taliban said it was not behind the explosion, though it does not usually claim responsibility for attacks that kill or maim large numbers of civilians, especially women and children.
Ghani, freshly returned from medical treatment in Germany, visited the wounded in hospital as social media carried calls for blood donations
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Humayoon Babur in Kabul contributed to this report.