(KABUL, Afghanistan) — At least 18 people are dead following two suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday that coincided with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to the country.
The first bomber struck the defense ministry in Kabul. The bomber was riding a bicycle when the bomb was set off. Nine people were killed and 20 additional people were injured.
The aftermath of the scene was chaotic. The explosion was so strong it left large shrapnel holes in nearby concrete blast walls.
Saturday’s other reported attack occurred outside Khost, a city to the south-east of Kabul. The bomber was on foot, targeting a joint patrol close to the U.S. military’s Camp Salerno base, according to a police spokesman who spoke with BBC News.
A policeman spotted the bomber and hugged him in an attempt to shield others from some of the force of the blast with his body. Still, ninewere killed, and some boys working in a nearby field were caught in the blast.
Hagel was in Kabul during the bombing, though at a different location.
It was not a coincidence that the attacks happened while Hagel was in Afghanistan. In an email, the Taliban took credit for the Kabul attack and said they had targeted one of the entrances used by soldiers and officers.
“The attack happened during the trip of the U.S. defense secretary, and the attack had a message for him,” the statement added.
Hagel expressed his condolences to those who lost loved ones. The defense secretary came to Afghanistan to get a better feel for what it was like on the ground, and was not shocked by the suicide bombings or the reality of the situation.
“We’re in a war zone. I’ve been in war,” Hagel said. “So, [we] shouldn’t be surprised if a bomb goes off or an explosion.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Barbie Latza Nadeau, Livia Borghese and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
Steve Visser and Masoud Popalzai, CNN
Ben Westcott, CNN
Angela Dewan, CNN