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At Least 28 People Killed In Kabul Attack

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Afghanistan, Taliban militants have launched their fighting season with bloody and ruthless attacks. They killed at least 28 people and injured more than 300 in a suicide bombing today in Kabul, and that was followed by a gun battle. The capital of Afghanistan has seen a lot of violence over the years, but today's bomb attack was unusually large. NPR's Philip Reeves says residents are in shock.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: We're beside the Kabul River. It runs through the middle of Afghanistan's capital. Bahram Hakimi has come here to squat on a wall, smoke a cigarette and gaze at the brown water rushing by. He says he hopes this will calm him after the terrible experience he went through a few hours earlier a few hundred yards from here.

BAHRAM HAKIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Hakimi says he was asleep in his car when the bomb detonated. The blast was so strong...

HAKIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: ...It knocked him out and shattered all his car windows.

HAKIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Hakimi says once he came to his senses and discovered that, amazingly, he wasn't hurt, he helped several of the hundreds of injured get away from the carnage. Hakimi is young, just 21. As he stares down at the river rushing by, he's full of gloom about his country's future.

HAKIMI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: "Afghanistan is clearly heading for disaster," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: At the scene itself, the police shoo away onlookers who've come to see the damage caused by a blast that everyone heard for miles around.

This is the area where the bombing took place. The actual detonation site is a couple of hundred yards from where I'm standing. Close by, I can see the target of the attack, which is a big, long, low, blue and gray building, heavily fortified. And in that building, Afghanistan's national security agency has a special elite unit that provides special security for government VIPs. Down the end of the building, a lot of wreckage on the streets and some twisted vehicles.

Remember, this is the middle of Kabul. Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense is close by, just over the river. This is the most fortified cities in the world, yet a Taliban suicide bomber was able to drive in here in a vehicle packed with explosives.

HASHMAT RANJBER: I'm really disappointed because they're so near to the ministry, there's explosions. I think it's a disappointment for us.

REEVES: That's Hashmat Ranjber, a project manager with the Foreign Ministry. He says he has disappointments with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

RANJBER: They cannot do for our Afghanistan people anything. Just only they are speeching in their TV, they are appearing in media. They are talking the people, we are bringing the peace in Afghanistan, but no.

REEVES: These days, you hear a lot of criticism like this of the Afghan government. Its popularity has plunged. Afghanistan's complained it's paralyzed by infighting. The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan recently said it would be an achievement if the government survives the year. Today's bomb was an attempt by the Taliban to see that it doesn't.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.