Taliban militants detonated a car bomb outside a private, heavily fortified compound home to mostly foreigners at about 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Afghan security forces and Taliban militants then exchanged gunfire. Afghan police officials say the situation was under control by 9:00 a.m., but the incident left at least 7 people dead and some 17 people injured.
The explosion came shortly after Mr. Obama gave a speech invoking "a new dawn" with the signing of a US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement. The incident not only underscores the difficulties that remain as Afghan security forces take control of increasingly larger share of the country, but also the potential fallout from the Afghan insurgency during high-profile visits.
“Obama’s visit to Afghanistan came under huge security preparations. Of course it was not risky for him, but it created concerns for citizens of Kabul. People were worried that many things would happen,” says Muhammad Hassan Haqyar, an independent political analyst in Kabul. “We saw the attack this morning that took the lives of many innocent people, but it was completely safe for Obama.”
The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they planned and conducted the attack on extremely short notice as soon as they learned about Obama’s arrival in Afghanistan. The unsophisticated nature of the attack suggests little planning beyond having fighters and some explosives pre-positioned in the vicinity of Kabul.
“With this attack we want to send a message to Obama that the Afghans will welcome you with attacks. He needs to [remove US] forces from Afghanistan. Not kill the innocent Afghans and destroy the Afghans country. You don’t need to sign agreements, you need to focus on how to get out of this country,” says Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban. “This attack was planned in a very short time, just after the mujahideen got the news of Obama’s arrival.”
The attack comes just after the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive in which they increase military activity during warm weather months. Taliban officials have said they will target members of the Karzai government, parliamentarians, and international troops.
The group has also shown a focus on high profile assaults in Kabul, such as the April 15 coordinated attacks in the capital and eastern Afghanistan.
Obama has drawn some flak for making his trip to Afghanistan overnight and leaving at sunrise, which some observers say shows little faith in the security situation here.
Among most Afghans, however, the timing of the trip is of little concern. That Obama made the trip to sign the agreement in person remains the most salient point.
Many Afghans have been looking for assurance that the US will not abandon the country after 2014, as the international community did for Afghanistan after the Soviet war ended.
“We don’t know why they choose such a time, but it doesn’t matter if they signed it in the night time or the day time,” says Rasheed Waziri, a member of the Afghanistan Regional Studies Center. “It doesn’t matter, I think that Americans help the Afghan people.”
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.