KABUL -- The Taliban on Wednesday (August 4) claimed responsibility for a huge attack in Kabul that targeted the defence minister, marking a major escalation of violence and underscoring the militants' non-commitment to peace.
The bomb-and-gun attack on Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi Tuesday was one of the biggest in Kabul in months, bringing violence to the capital after intense fighting in the south and west of the country.
Mohammadi survived unhurt.
The Taliban have largely refrained from large-scale attacks in the capital in recent years after starting talks with the United States on troop withdrawal.
"We won't attack cities or carry out military operations in capitals of 34 provinces including Kabul," Shahabuddin Delawar, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, said at a news conference in Tehran July 7.
And a spokesman for Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi claimed in a July 13 Twitter post that the militant group did not intend to target cities -- an apparent lie amid repeated attempts to seize provincial capitals.
'Taliban's war is sedition'
The first bomb Tuesday exploded in the centre of Kabul, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP reported.
Less than two hours later, there was another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire, also near the high-security Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
The minister was safe and Afghan forces repelled the terrorists, but at least eight people were killed, according to Ministry of Interior Affairs spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai.
Mohammadi later said that a suicide car bombing that targeted his house.
Several attackers stormed a lawmaker's house after setting off the car bomb and fired at the residence of the minister from there, said a security source.
One of the possible reasons for the attack was that the "Taliban have been caught off guard by the prevalence of anti-Taliban sentiments in Afghanistan's urban centres," Ibraheem Bahiss, a consultant with International Crisis Group, told AFP.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the Kabul attack in a statement.
"The Taliban's war is sedition, and according to God's guidance, it is necessary to stand up against the seditionists the way people stood up in support of the security and defence forces in other provinces," he said.
There was little respite in Kabul early Wednesday after a blast injured three people, according to police.
The violence in the capital comes after the Afghan military launched a counterattack against the insurgents in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province.
The military had asked civilians to leave the city on Tuesday as they prepared for their offensive.
"Those families who had financial support or a car have left their homes. The families who cannot afford to are obliged to stay in their own homes as we are," resident Halim Karimi told AFP.
"We don't know where to go or how to leave."
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch accused the Taliban of "summarily" executing detained soldiers, police and civilians with alleged ties to the Afghan government in areas they had recently seized.
The rights group said it had also obtained a list of 44 people whom the Taliban killed in the town of Spin Boldak, which the insurgents captured last month along the border with Pakistan.
"Taliban commanders with oversight over such atrocities are also responsible for war crimes," Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
Washington and London have accused the insurgents of committing atrocities that may amount to "war crimes" in Spin Boldak.
"In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, the Taliban massacred dozens of civilians in revenge killings. These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable," the US embassy in Kabul said in a tweet Monday.
"The Taliban's leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later," it added.