KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber struck at the heart of NATO’s operation in Kabul on Saturday, killing at least six Afghan civilians in an attack that officials blamed on the Haqqani network — a militant group the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.
The blast, which left a bloody stain on a sidewalk just outside the sprawling headquarters of the U.S.-led military coalition, came as a senior Haqqani commander interviewed by The Associated Press vowed revenge for Washington’s decision.
The Obama administration gave the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which is linked to the Taliban, a terrorist label on Friday despite misgivings the move could further stall planned Afghan peace talks.
The commander said the Haqqani network’s military commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani, wants to carry out “80 to 100 attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and 20 attacks on other NATO members” in retaliation for the terrorist declaration.
No coalition casualties were reported in Saturday’s blast, German Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, the NATO spokesman, said.
But the insurgents’ continued ability to strike so close to NATO headquarters has undermined coalition claims of improving security as foreign troops withdraw and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces across the country by the end of 2014.
The heavily fortified Afghan capital has experienced a series of attacks that are particularly valuable because they score propaganda points for the insurgents by throwing doubt on the government’s ability to provide security even in its own seat of power.
The bomber, who Kabul police estimated to be about 14 years old, struck just before noon on a street that connects the alliance headquarters to the nearby U.S. and Italian embassies, a large U.S. military base and the Afghan Defense Ministry.
He detonated his explosives while walking down the street, according to Kabul police. The Ministry of Interior said some of the victims were street children.
The blast occurred just a few hours after hundreds of Afghans and officials had gathered a few hundred meters (yards) away to lay wreaths at a statue to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The charismatic Northern Alliance commander was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. The alliance joined with the United States to help rout the Taliban after America invaded Afghanistan a month later.