June 2nd 2017
EVEN for a city familiar with explosions, the power of the bomb that ripped through Kabul on May 31st was shocking. The device, hidden in a tanker truck, went off during rush hour in a crowded area near several foreign embassies. The blast shattered windows a mile away and sent clouds of black smoke swirling above the city. At least 90 people were killed and more than 460 wounded, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in the 16-year civil war.
Jan Ali Ghobar, who works for Roshan, a telecommunications company based nearby, was knocked unconscious: “When I came back, everything was dark, the ceiling had fallen down, our desk chairs, everything was crushed.” The German embassy was badly damaged; one of its Afghan guards was killed.
As The Economist went to press, no one had claimed responsibility for the blast. A spokesman for the Taliban denied that they were behind it. Islamic State militants have staged several attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, though none as large as this. Whoever was behind it, the attack highlights the Afghan government’s inability to provide security, even in the capital. According to the UN, Kabul has become the deadliest province in the country for civilians, ahead of some of the country’s more notorious trouble spots, such as Helmand and Kandahar.
One effect of the explosion has been to heighten the debate in Germany over whether it is reasonable to repatriate Afghans whose applications for asylum are unsuccessful. Just after the blast, the German authorities postponed a flight carrying failed asylum-seekers to Kabul. German officials’ insistence that parts of Afghanistan are safe for deportees sounds ever less plausible.
The bombing will also intensify the row within the administration of Donald Trump over whether to increase America’s military presence in Afghanistan. Mr Trump’s national-security team has endorsed a plan to deploy up to 5,000 extra troops. Others in the White House remain opposed to further entangling America in a war on which it already spends $3bn a month. Mr Trump has not yet made up his mind. The bombing certainly strengthens the case that the Afghan government is losing control and needs more military assistance. But it also makes Afghanistan look even more like a quagmire.