Suicide attack on Kabul bus kills one, wounds 15: officials

Kabul (AFP) - A Taliban suicide bomber struck a government bus in Kabul Monday, killing one civilian and wounding 15 others, officials said, following talks between insurgent representatives and an Afghan delegation in Doha aimed at ending the country's 13-year war.

The bus was transporting employees of the attorney general's office to work in downtown Kabul when the attacker detonated his suicide vest, as the militants continue to press on with their annual spring offensive.

The Afghan interior ministry "strongly condemned" the attack, confirming that one civilian was killed and 15 others were wounded.

"These attacks... demonstrate (an) extreme level of atrocity by terrorists against innocent and defenseless civilians," the ministry said in a statement.

Security officials erected a cordon around the battered bus, which saw its windows blown out by the force of the explosion and its windscreen incurring multiple cracks.

The explosion also shattered the windows of houses and shops nearby, Ahmad Reshad, a government employee who was near the blast site, told AFP.

The attack comes after a 20-member Afghan delegation on the weekend launched two days of "open discussion" with Taliban representatives in the Gulf emirate of Qatar.

The Taliban reiterated their hardline stance on peace talks at the meeting, ruling out negotiations until US forces leave the country and the insurgents are allowed to open a political office.

The insurgents claimed responsibility for Monday's attack on their Twitter account, claiming that 40 people were killed or wounded.

The Taliban are known to exaggerate and distort their public statements as part of a propaganda drive accompanying their campaign against the Afghan and US-led foreign forces who ousted them from power in 2001.

Scores of shuttle buses take government and military personnel to work every morning in the capital, and they have often been targeted by insurgents despite efforts by security forces to provide better protection.

This year's Taliban offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces will battle the insurgents without the full support of US-led foreign combat troops.

NATO's combat mission formally ended in December but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.

The Taliban launched their spring offensive across Afghanistan late last month, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets and inflicting a heavy toll on civilians and Afghan security forces.

The number of civilians killed and wounded jumped 22 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

And in the first three months of 2015, civilian casualties from ground fighting were up eight percent on the same period last year, a new UNAMA report said.