NEW DELHI: At least 16 people were killed and over 100 wounded in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday in near simultaneous suicide bombings and an hour-long shootout with Afghan security forces.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with a spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid saying that the group had inflicted heavy casualties.

The Interior Ministry said that a suicide bomber struck an Afghan police precinct in western Kabul. Reports say that immediately after the blast, gunfire rang out in a continuing attack. Soon after, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch in eastern Kabul, while another attacker was gunned down while trying to enter the compound.

Wahid Mujro, the public health ministry spokesperson, said 15 people were killed in the police compound and 104 people were injured in both attacks.

President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attacks, saying that "terrorists and their alien masters once again tried to create an atmosphere of terror and fear in Kabul." Ghani linked the attacks to the death of senior Taliban commander, known as Mullah Salaam in Kunduz, saying that the Taliban were resorting to attack cities in a bid to boost morale amongst their followers.

The United Nations Security Council "condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks" and underlined the need to bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement, however, added that "no violent or terrorist acts can reverse the Afghan-led process along the path towards peace, democracy and stability in Afghanistan, which is supported by the people and the government of Afghanistan, and by the international community."

The attack comes as attempts to initiate a peace process with the Taliban falter, with the militants expected to step up fighting ahead of the ‘Spring Offensive’ -- when better weather enables a further push in violence.

In the last year, the Taliban has seen some of its biggest gains, virtually controlling territory in Kunduz, Kandahar and Helmand. On the day of the Kabul attacks, the Taliban gained control of local government headquarters in a district in northern Baghlan province, after almost three days of intense battles with Afghan security forces. The Taliban spokesman tweeted that their fighters have overrun the Tala Wa Barfak headquarters.

Meanwhile, civilians face the brunt of the escalating violence, with the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documenting record high casualties, and saying in its latest report summarising 2016 released February 2017 that “conflict-related violence exacted a heavy toll on Afghanistan in 2016, with an overall deterioration in civilian protection and the highest total civilian casualties recorded since 2009 when UNAMA began systematic documentation of civilian casualties.”

Between 1 January and 31 December 2016, UNAMA documented 11,418 civilian casualties (3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured). These figures amount to a three per cent increase in total civilian casualties compared to 2015.

In 2016, UNAMA documented record numbers of civilian casualties from ground engagements, suicide and complex attacks and explosive remnants of war, as well as the highest number of civilian casualties caused by aerial operations since 2009.6 Increases in civilian deaths and injuries from these tactics drove the overall three per cent rise in civilian casualties.

The conflict severely impacted Afghan children in 2016. UNAMA recorded 3,512 child casualties (923 deaths and 2,589 injured), a 24 per cent increase from 2015, and the highest number of child casualties recorded by UNAMA n a single year. The disproportionate rise in child casualties across Afghanistan in 2016 resulted mainly from a 66 per cent increase in civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war – most of whom were children.

According to UNAMA, since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24,841 civilians and injured 45,347 others. The actual figures are expected to be much higher.

(Photograph: AP)