KABUL, Afghanistan – A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives killed over 80 people at a busy market in southeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the deadliest attack in the country in months.
The blast took place on Tuesday when the bomber detonated his explosives-packed vehicle near a crowded market and a mosque in the Urgun district of Paktika province. Defence Ministry spokesman Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi said that the military was providing helicopters and ambulances to transport the victims to the provincial capital, Sharan.
Azimi said that 42 people were wounded in the explosion and some 20 shops were destroyed. The blast in Urgun in Paktika province highlights the fragile security situation Afghanistan faces as NATO withdraws its 50,000 combat troops, leaving local forces to contend with a resilient insurgency.
Afghanistan is also in a delicate state politically, with the two rivals to succeed President Hamid Karzai only narrowly avoiding a major crisis over allegations of electoral fraud at the weekend.
“We don't know what the target was, but the blast was very strong," Urgun district chief Mohammad Razaq Kharoty told AFP. He said that the explosion damaged dozens of shops and houses nearby. Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed the incident, saying the explosives were placed in a truck and detonated after the police tried to stop it in the market.
Hamkimullah, a witness, told AFP the blast was huge and destroyed dozens of cars and shops. "There is no room in the hospitals for the victims, people are treating the wounded people on the streets," he said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suicide attacks are a common weapon used by the Taliban, though attacks that kill civilians often go unclaimed.
– Presidential media staff targeted –
The attack comes after a remotely controlled bomb targeted a presidential palace staff bus in Kabul, killing two and wounding five others. “All victims are from the presidential media office," Hashmat Estanakzai, Kabul police spokesman told AFP. As part of their annual spring offensive, the Taliban have increased attacks on foreign and Afghan security forces, but it is usually civilians who suffer the brunt of the casualties.
A UN report last week said civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared by 24 percent to 4,853 in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a worrying sign of spreading conflict, the UN report said, with women and children increasingly caught in the crossfire. The grim figures underline the fragile security situation Afghanistan faces as it wrestles with political turmoil over its disputed presidential election, with most foreign forces due to withdraw by the end of the year.