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KABUL, Afghanistan – Powerful explosions outside a high school in the Afghan capital on Saturday killed at least 50 people and injured numerous others, including many teenage girls who had left class. This was a gruesome attack that underscored fears about the future of the nation following the imminent withdrawal of American troops.
The explosions – and targeted combat against girls leaving Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School – came as rights groups and others alerted that the withdrawal of American troops would make women and their educational and social gains particularly vulnerable.
The hope related to the US troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban was that it could pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and respite for civilians who are being killed in appalling numbers. But the reality of American troop withdrawal is being driven home by massacres like that on Saturday – there was more chaos than agreement and more fear than hope.
A car bomb was detonated outside the school Saturday afternoon and two more bombs were fired as students stormed out, said Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry. Ambulances sped through the city towards the construction site until late in the evening.
In recent weeks, the Taliban’s public utterances have been largely triumphant, with the fear that the insurgents will attempt to take power through a bloody military victory when American and international forces are gone.
Even if a peace deal were to be reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which seems less likely every day, the result would still be the Taliban’s brand of harsh Islamist restrictions, including excluding girls from school Success could become mainstream.
On social media The Taliban denied responsibility and condemned the attack, which took place in a western district of the capital that is home to many Hazara ethnic minority residents. The Hazara are a predominantly Shiite group in a country where Sunni militants live and they have been frequent targets by loyalists to the Islamic state. The Hazara, too, are increasingly outraged by the violence against them and the government’s inability to protect them.
Sayed Ul-Shuhada runs courses for boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon. The attack occurred around 4 p.m. as the girls were walking and the streets were full of residents preparing for the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Many residents saw the massacre, which saw books, backpacks and corpses strewn across the ground on a pleasant spring afternoon, as harbingers of what was to come.
Dr. Mohammad Dawood Danish, the director of Mohammad Ali Jinnah Hospital in Kabul, said 20 bodies and more than 40 wounded were brought to his hospital. Most of them were students, he said.
“The health of a number of girls is critical,” said Dr. Danish.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mr. Arian said Sunday morning that a total of more than 100 people had been injured.
The presidential palace in Afghanistan issued a statement blaming the Taliban for the killings, calling them “a crime against humanity”.
Saturday’s attack, despite its brutality, was something that has become painfully common in Kabul, a capital that has been ravaged by horrific violence for years – suicide vests, missile barriers, giant truck bombs.
However, the attack on the high school came at a tipping point as US and international forces depart and the next chapter of the ongoing war in Afghanistan unfolds.
“I’ve lost the number of attacks on children,” said Shaharzad Akbar, chair of the independent human rights commission in Afghanistan social media. “I’ve lost the number of attacks on education. I’ve lost the number of civilians killed just this month. This war has to stop. This madness, this pain, this pain. “
Mohammad Hussain Jawhari, a resident of the area, said two of his relatives are missing.
“I checked at least 10 hospitals and they were nowhere to be found,” Jawhari said. “People have gathered in the area. You are really mad. It is not the first time our children have been blown up and the government does nothing. “
Said Ahmad Hussaini had arrived to pick up his two daughters and saw a man sitting in a Toyota limousine parked in front of the school, trembling with nervousness. Mr Hussaini said he asked the man what he was doing. “None of your business,” replied the man in the car.
Moments later the car exploded, said Mr. Hussaini.
Peace talks in Qatar have given little assurance that the war could end anytime soon, and the Taliban have shown no sign of amicable willingness to join the current government. The Islamic State is still quietly anchored, mainly in the east of the country, waiting for the opportunity to assert itself again.
At the center is a generation of Afghans who grew up in the 20 years since the US invasion in 2001. After the fall of the Taliban, the international community advocated women’s rights and human rights in the country in a broader sense. Now the future of both is unclear.
When the insurgent group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were banned from taking most jobs or going to school.
Roshan Ghaznawi, a suffragette in Kabul, was driving home when she heard of the attack and she soon started crying.
“Our education centers have been the target of bloody attacks for three years,” said Ms. Ghaznawi. “This is not the first attack and it won’t be the last, but we will never give up. If 30 people were killed in that incident, the hearts of 30 million people are now injured, and the hearts and souls of 30 million people are in pain. “
In October, a suicide attack in an education center in the vicinity of the attack on Saturday killed at least 24 people, again including many students.
The attack came at the end of a particularly violent week in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of US and NATO troops began, the Taliban launched offensives in the south and north. Last week, a car bomb in Logar, a province south of Kabul, killed more than 20 people.
At least 44 civilians and 139 government forces were killed in Afghanistan last week, the highest weekly death toll since October. This is based on data from the New York Times.
Fatima Faizi and Kiana Hayeri contributed to the coverage.