The death toll from a has more than doubled to 64, making the attack on an elite guard unit the deadliest in the Afghan capital since the insurgent group was toppled from power 15 years ago.
The suicide assault by a bomber and at least one gunman was a blow to the government and is likely to bury .
The showed their ability to pull off a direct strike at the heart of the country’s ruling elite, driving a vehicle crammed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives into a city centre once relatively well protected by the intelligence services.
In , personal protection is often organised by relatives or close family friends of public figures. By hitting the VIP protection squad, the Taliban were targeting both the national security apparatus and individuals with close ties to ministers and senior officials.
The majority of the dead and injured were civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, waiting at a nearby bus stop or walking along the bank of the Kabul river.
But also among the victims were at least 11 members of the protection squad including a nephew of the vice-president Sarwar Danish, and bodyguards of the national chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, a security source told the Guardian.
The toll from the truck bombing and an hours-long gunfight that followed – after at least one gunman in military uniform slipped into the squad headquarters and held off police – was originally put below 30, but revised on Wednesday to 64.
That updated figure exceeded recorded deaths from both a suicide bomb and an , which a United Nations unit responsible for tracking civilian casualties said killed 55 and 56 people respectively.
The government, which is worried about deteriorating security and morale, has declined to confirm the grim record or provide official tolls for those earlier attacks. Officials denied they had tried to keep any casualties hidden.
The scale of the attack and dispersal of so many casualties to hospitals and morgues around the city made it hard to draw up totals in the frantic hours after the attack, said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Abdullah.
The assault began when a Toyota Dyna truck loaded with explosives hit the western wall of Department 10, a unit of Afghanistan’s spy agency, according to a written briefing prepared by top government security advisers and seen by the Guardian.
The blast shook windows and flung open doors miles away. At least one gunman entered the building, though security sources believe there might have been more attackers, holing up for a gun battle that lasted several hours.
It was not the deadliest single attack of the war, a bloody distinction probably belonging to a outside the southern city of Kandahar several years ago. There have also been .
But the location and high-profile target make it strategically significant. Both the scale of the carnage and the identity of victims will make it hard for the Afghan government to continue with efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
After months of military advances around the country, the Taliban publicly rejected negotiations and last week launched an annual “spring offensive” named for their former leader Mullah Omar.
Immediately after the attack, Abdullah cancelled a trip to Pakistan scheduled for May. The Taliban leadership have been based there for years, and critics of Islamabad say it provides them with support and a safe haven.
“Before, we had focus on a peaceful solution, but now there’s been a shift in strategy, to hit [Taliban] where it hurts the most. We’ll be hitting them with full force, with all means available,” Faisal told the Guardian.
“They do not answer positively to the peace call of the government, they answered with bullets. If they want war, we’ll give them war.”