A suicide car bomb exploded outside the NATO military headquarters in the Afghan capital Saturday and killed seven Afghans, the defence ministry said, in a brazen attack just days before elections.
Afghan women who were wounded in a blast in front of the NATO headquarters, receive treatment at a hospital in Kabul on August 15, 2009. (AFP Photo)
The Taliban militia behind a soaring insurgency said it had carried out the unprecedented bombing near the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and close to an entrance to the US embassy.
The huge explosion, just metres (yards) from the ISAF gate in one of the most secure areas of the country, reinforced fears of an increase in attacks ahead of the August 20 presidential and provincial council elections.
But President Hamid Karzai, in a statement condemning the blast, insisted that Afghans "will not be scared of such threats and will go to the voting booths".
It was the first such bombing outside the heavily fortified base, which collects soldiers from several countries and is the headquarters of the US commander of 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan to fight extremism.
"In the suicide attack today at 8:30 am by the enemies of Afghanistan in front of ISAF HQ entrance in Kabul the number of martyrs has increased to seven," an Afghan defence ministry statement said.
The ministry said earlier that 91 Afghans were wounded including a woman parliamentarian and four Afghan soldiers.
Most injuries were superficial, including some caused by flying glass, officials said.
Five ISAF soldiers were wounded, though none seriously, a spokesman told AFP. He could not give their nationalities.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of international troops in Afghanistan, rushed to the scene soon afterwards, an AFP reporter said.
"I have to see my men," he said, but refused to comment further.
The blast destroyed concrete security barriers and brought down branches and a whole tree, with huge plumes of black smoke coming from a burning vehicle that appeared to have been the car bomb.
"It was a suicide bombing carried out in a car right in front of ISAF," defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP.
Also in the area, which was busy with morning rush hour traffic, are the Spanish and Italian embassies, state radio and television and the presidential palace.
"I had two female and one male colleague who were wounded and I was taking them to the hospital," said Abdul Raqib, a driver from the transport ministry nearby.
"As I passed by the explosion site it was still in flames, my tyres melted. There was a car in flames," he told AFP.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the attack was carried out by a member of the militia in a car packed with 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds) of explosives.
It was the first suicide attack on the city in months and the first one against the ISAF base established in the capital in 2001, the year after the Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion.
A suicide car bomb struck the perimeter of a separate US base in the city on January 17, killing at least one US soldier and four Afghans.
The Taliban have said they would not directly attack polling stations on August 20 elections but have called on Afghans to boycott the polls and instead join their jihad, or holy war, for "independence".
Karzai's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, said on Thursday community leaders in the troubled south had persuaded grassroots Taliban leaders not to target the vote.
"I asked (community) elders to talk to the Taliban and they have done, and have assured me that the local Taliban have agreed not to cause trouble," said Karzai, who runs his brother's election campaign in the south.
Fears are growing that attacks and the threat of violence could see voters stay away from the country's second-ever presidential elections, a milestone on a road to democracy.
"With such attacks the enemies of Afghanistan are trying to create fear among people in the run-up to the elections," Karzai said in a statement.
"But they must know that Afghans realise the importance of elections... and they will not be scared of such threats and will go to the voting boxes," he said.
Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, is leading the race for the elections.