At least 41 dead in Afghanistan suicide attack

Afghan security personnel are pictured past mangled cars at the scene of a suicide attack at a busy market in Urgun district, Paktika province on July 15, 2014. (AFP Photo/Pajhwok News Agency)

KHOST, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives killed at least 41 people at a busy market in southeastern Afghanistan Tuesday, the deadliest attack in the war-torn country for months.

The huge blast in Urgun district of Paktika province came hours after a remotely controlled bomb targeted a presidential palace media staff bus in Kabul, killing two and wounding five.

The explosion at Urgun also destroyed dozens of cars and shops, Hamkimullah, a witness, told AFP

"There is no room in the hospitals for the victims. People are treating the wounded people on the streets," he said.

The blasts highlight the fragile security situation Afghanistan faces as NATO progressively withdraws its 50,000 remaining combat troops, leaving local forces to battle a resilient Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan is also in a delicate state politically, with the two rivals to succeed President Hamid Karzai only narrowly avoiding a crisis at the weekend over allegations of electoral fraud.

Karzai's office said in a statement that 41 people including six children and the imam of a mosque were killed and 67 wounded in Paktika.

There are fears the death toll could rise - the spokesman for Paktika's governor, Mokhlis Afghan, said 43 had died.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the explosives were placed in a truck and detonated after the police tried to stop the vehicle in the market.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suicide attacks are a common weapon of the Taliban. Attacks that kill civilians often go unclaimed.

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 U.N. 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 in a worrying sign of spreading conflict, the U.N. 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.

The two candidates to take over from Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, reached a deal late Saturday to audit all eight million ballots cast in their runoff election following two days of frantic diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Afghanistan had teetered on the brink of disaster last week after preliminary results of the disputed runoff were released showing Ghani well ahead of his rival.

Abdullah, who had already complained of fraud in the vote, declared himself the true winner and said massive cheating had robbed him of victory.

Both candidates agreed to stand by the results of the audit, with the winner to be declared the next president.





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