A suicide bomber has detonated his explosives outside the defense ministry in Kabul. The blast occurred during US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's first visit to the country as NATO-led forces prepare to leave.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast on Saturday, saying that the attack was intended to send a message to Washington.
"This was not a direct at tack to target him [Hagel], but we want to send a message that we are always capable of hitting Kabul even when the top US defense official is there," Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
Hagel was in a meeting at a coalition military facility in another part of the city when the blast occurred, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little. The meeting continued without interruption, he said.
The blast killed at least nine Afghan civilians and wounded 10 others, according to Kabul's deputy police chief, Mohammed Daoud Amin. He said that "two or there" defense ministry personnel were among the injured.
The suicide bomber reportedly arrived on a bicycle, detonating his bomb 30 meters (100 feet) from the Afghan defense ministry gate in the central part of the city.
In a separate incident, a suicide blast hit the eastern province of Khost, killing a policeman and at least seven civilians.
‘We're still at war in Afghanistan'
Hagel's maiden visit to Afghanistan comes as the US and its allies prepare to withdraw their combat forces from the country in 2014.
"We have a lot of big issues and challenges ahead as we prepare for a responsible transition," Hagel told reporters on his plane before he arrived in Afghanistan on Friday.
"The transition has to be done right, it has to be done in partnership with the Afghans (and) with our allies," he said.
US President Barack Obama announced in February that 34,000 American troops would be withdrawn over the course of the next year, halving the size of the current 66,000-strong force. But Hagel warned that the US was still at war in the country.
"We have 66,000 troops still at war in a combat zone, that reality is there," the defense secretary said. "I don't minimize or marginalize anything just because we may be transitioning to a new phase. We're still at war in Afghanistan."
slk/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)