KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber drove an ambulance into a commercial area by pretending to be carrying a patient to a hospital and then detonated his explosives at a checkpoint near the European Union consulate, killing at least 95 people and wounding 158 more in an attack claimed by the Taliban, authorities said.
Saturday’s powerful explosion, which came a week after Taliban militants killed 22 people at an international hotel in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, was felt throughout the city and covered the blast area in smoke and dust. Dozens of vehicles were damaged or destroyed, and several shops, including some selling antiques and photography equipment, were decimated.
Windows at the nearby Jamhuriat government hospital were shattered, and its walls were damaged. People ran out to help, and ambulances arrived to transport dozens of wounded people to hospitals.
The attacker used the ambulance to coast through one security checkpoint in central Kabul by telling police he was transporting a patient and then detonated his explosives at a second checkpoint, the Interior Ministry said. Four suspects in the deadly bombing, which occurred near the European Union and Indian consulates, had been arrested and were being questioned, the ministry said, but it didn’t elaborate.
“The majority of the dead in the attack are civilians, but of course we have military casualties as well,” ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which sent thick, black smoke into the sky from a site near the government’s former Interior Ministry building.
It has been a month of relentless attacks across Afghanistan, with the Taliban and an Islamic State group affiliate making alternate claims of responsibility. The brutality and frequency of the attacks, including one in December at a Shiite cultural center, has shattered Afghanistan’s usually quiet winter, when fighting normally slows down.
President Donald Trump condemned “the despicable car bombing attack,” and said “all countries should take decisive action” against the Taliban.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack, saying through a spokesman that “Indiscriminate attacks against civilians ... can never be justified.” U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass called the attack “senseless and cowardly.”
And the International Committee of the Red Cross seethed that the ambulance attack was “unacceptable and unjustifiable,” saying in a tweet: “The use of an ambulance in today’s attack in #Kabul is harrowing.”
It was the second Taliban attack in a week on high-security targets in the city.
Last weekend, six Taliban militants attacked Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 22 people, including 14 foreigners, dead. About 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by climbing down bedsheets tied to balconies. The U.S. Department of State said American citizens were killed and injured in that attack.
The hotel attack prompted the United States to repeat its demand that Pakistan expel Taliban members who have found sanctuary on its soil, with particular reference to the Haqqani network. On Wednesday a U.S. drone slammed into Pakistani tribal territory that borders Afghanistan, killing two Haqqani commanders, said Pakistani officials, who deny providing organized camps for their safety. Pakistan says the Taliban cross the porous border that separates the countries along with the estimated 1.5 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan.
The recent attacks have infuriated Afghans, frustrated by the worsening security after 16 years of war. The Afghans have expressed their anger with neighbor Pakistan for harboring insurgents and with the U.S.-led coalition for its inability to suppress the insurgency. They also have blamed the deteriorating security situation on a deeply divided government embroiled in political feuding that has paralyzed Parliament.
After Saturday’s attacks, Pakistan issued a statement that condemned the bombing, saying, “No cause or ends justify acts of terrorism against innocent people.”
Afghan security forces, whose competency has been uneven, have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.
Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a time-based approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. The Republican president’s U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that his policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.
TWIN FALLS — Just before Christmas, a student who hadn’t eaten breakfast showed up in school counselor Griselda Escobedo’s office. She dug into her own stash of food to give the student something to eat.
The next few days, Escobedo kept hearing questions at Twin Falls High School about why there wasn’t a food pantry. English and freshman transitions teacher Mary Sorenson encountered those same questions.
“We both kind of had a lightbulb moment,” Sorenson said Wednesday. “I assumed we had (a food pantry) already.”
Sorenson presented the topic to her advisory class and they decided to start one. Escobedo got approval from school administrators.
Sorenson’s students visited classes at the school to talk about the new food pantry and asked their peers to bring in donations. They also made posters and flyers.
The school also received donated food from I.B. Perrine Elementary School‘s food drive.
With the addition to Twin Falls High School’s food pantry, more than half of Twin Falls’ 16 campuses have a pantry to help students in need. Many also include hygiene items such as toothpaste and shampoo, and school supplies.
“Having Twin Falls have a food pantry really rounds it out districtwide,” Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said.
Now, 10 schools have food pantries: Twin Falls High; South Hills Middle School; Bickel, Harrison, Lincoln, Oregon Trail and Rock Creek elementary schools; Robert Stuart Middle School; and Canyon Ridge and Magic Valley high schools.
Twin Falls High launched its school food pantry the Monday before Christmas break in mid-December. That week, they assisted students by providing food, but haven’t had anyone ask for help since then.
“I’m sure we have needs, but it’s a hard thing to ask for,” Escobedo said.
There tends to be a stigma attached to asking for help, Craner said, and it takes time to build a culture to overcome that.
Sorenson’s advisory students — including 17-year-olds Karee Denton and Kayja Rathbun — are particularly passionate about the food pantry project. The class wants to make it their legacy project at Twin Falls High.
In addition to food, Kayja said she’d like to see essential school supplies added in the future. Often, teachers dip into their own stash of school supplies to help students if they don’t have a binder, paper or pencils, for example.
Once students collected donations for the food pantry, two counseling office student clerks — 17-year-old Maggie Sauer and 18-year-old Elizabella Cresto — organized donated food onto shelves and labeled items by category. The pantry is in a back room of the library, which used to store old computers and equipment.
Requests for assistance are considered on a case-by-case basis. “If there’s a student in need, they go to the counselors,” Sorenson said.
People have been generous with donations, Sorenson said. An unfortunate problem the school has encountered, though, is many food items had to be discarded because the expiration date had passed.
Another challenge: Food pantries tend to receive an influx of donations around the holidays, but it gets quieter after that.
But Sorenson’s advisory class plans to continue to push forward to seek donations to help their classrooms.
There’s always a need, Escobedo said. “People are hungry year-round.”
WASHINGTON — Beset by poor poll numbers and the grind of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump will look to reset his term with his first State of the Union address, arguing that his tax cut and economic policies will benefit all Americans.
The theme of his Tuesday night address to Congress and the country is “Building a safe, strong and proud America,” and the president is looking to showcase accomplishments of his first year while setting the tone for the second.
Aides say the president plans to set aside his more combative tone for one of compromise, and to make an appeal beyond his base.
Trump often engages in hyperpartisan politics, and his tax overhaul has been criticized for disproportionately favoring the wealthy. But he will try to make the case that all groups of people have benefited during his watch, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to preview the speech for the record and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The annual address is a big set piece for any president, a prime-time window to address millions of voters. Every word is reviewed, every presidential guest carefully chosen, every sentence rehearsed. The stakes are enormous for Trump, hoping to move past a turbulent first 12 months in office.
Trump is giving the speech “with the lowest approval ratings of any president in his first year in the history of presidential polling, and can point to the least number of legislative accomplishments,” said Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University. “Every month that goes by in which Trump fails to increase his support works against him because voters’ negative impressions of him will just solidify.”
She said the address “could turn that around if he strikes a bipartisan conciliatory tone and makes it more about the country than about himself.”
Five themes are expected to dominate: the economy and the tax overhaul, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and terrorism and global threats.
Selling the GOP’s tax plan is an election-year project as Republicans look to retain their majority in Congress. The tax changes are billed as essential to powering the ambitious projections of economic growth, and Trump is expected to cite the benefits to the public that proponents envision.
Trump also plans to outline a nearly $2 trillion plan that his administration contends will trigger $1 trillion or more in public and private spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects.
On immigration, he will promote his new proposal for $25 billion for a wall along the Mexican border and for a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the United States as children and now here illegally.
Trump’s trade talk will reflect what he discussed at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Friday: a preference for one-on-one deals instead of multilateral agreements.
The public should get an update on the fight against terrorism and an assessment of international threats, including North Korea. The senior administration official said Trump probably would avoid the taunts of “Little Rocket Man” for Kim Jong Un and “fire and fury” that he used before.
The White House says one of Trump’s guests for the speech will be someone who has been touched by the opioid crisis.
The address comes at a critical point for the president. He wants to move past the government shutdown that coincided with the anniversary of his inauguration and prepare for a grueling election season that is shaping up as a referendum on his leadership. Trump and members of his Cabinet are expected to travel in the days after the speech to drive home its themes.
Critics wonder why the president will show the resolve to stay on message.
“The most capable White Houses use the State of the Union as an organizing moment to set agenda for the whole year, from both a messaging and legislative perspective,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for President Barack Obama. “I don’t think this White House is capable of that kind of discipline. So even if he gives a good speech, it is unlikely to have any staying power and transcend his broader problems of not being able to drive a coherent agenda or generate support for himself beyond his core supporters.”
Sometimes, the address is a high-water mark for a president.
In 2002, Republican George W. Bush used the speech to define the “axis of evil” — Iran, Iraq, and North Korea — that he believed supported terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction.
In 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton declared that the “era of big government is over” after emerging from a shutdown fight.
In 1941, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined the “four freedoms” that people across the globe held dear in the face of World War II’s horrors.
The White House, led by policy adviser Stephen Miller and staff secretary Rob Porter, has spent weeks on the speech, seeking input from Cabinet secretaries and agency leaders. Several drafts have circulated throughout the West Wing and the president has weighed in with handwritten notes.
Trump did address a joint session of Congress in 2017, though it was not technically a State of the Union speech because it occurred barely a month into his term. It was notable for this president for how it hewed to conventional speechmaking.