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Bombing in diplomatic area of Kabul kills 80, wounds hundreds

KABUL, Afghanistan — A huge explosion hit near the German Embassy in Kabul during rush hour Wednesday morning, killing at least 80 people and injuring 300 others close to a highly secure diplomatic area.

Video from the scene showed a towering plume of black smoke and emergency vehicles speeding toward it. Soldiers in fatigues stood with guns drawn as sounds of screams, blaring sirens and traffic pierced the morning sky.

Bystanders lifted an injured man from the back of a pickup as others hovered nearby, blood streaming down their faces. Mangled, burning cars stood nearby.

400 yards away

The blast was caused by a suicide attack, according to Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry. The Afghan health ministry confirmed the casualty numbers, which are expected to rise.

It hit about 400 yards from the German Embassy, and was in a water delivery truck, according to journalist Jennifer Glasse. She said the presidential palace and the Indian Embassy are also nearby.

“By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive Kabul blast,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

The US Embassy said “a large vehicle borne improvised explosive device” detonated near the southern edge of the diplomatic area.

“The US Embassy does not appear to have been the target of the blast,” a spokesperson said, and referred questions on casualties to the Afghanistan government.

‘I was lucky’

Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Donati said a vehicle packed with explosives detonated close to the green zone entrance. It injured one employee and shattered windows in the newspaper’s bureau, which is in the most fortified area and requires passing through several checkpoints to get there, she said.

The blast hit when everyone was going to work, and occurred on the first few days of the holy month of Ramadan, which started Friday.

“A lot of people come into this part of the city to work in embassies or at the military base,” Donati said. “I was lucky because I was in the shower at the time.”

The green zone houses western embassies, government institutions and the residences of high-ranking officials and their families.

This month, another attack targeted a convoy of foreign troops near the US Embassy in Kabul, killing eight people. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.

Deteriorating security

There has been no claim of responsibility in Wednesday’s attack, but it highlights the deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is considering sending additional troops to the country, US military officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

The troops could consist of special forces personnel and more conventional soldiers, and would be part of the NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan army in its fight against militants.

There are about 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan — a majority of them are involved in training and advising Afghan troops. About 2,000 US servicemembers participate in a counterterrorism mission that targets terror groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

US troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, where the government and coalition allies are battling several terror groups, including the Taliban and ISIS.