A suicide car bomber has exploded his vehicle in a busy market in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika, killing at least 89 people. Officials warn the death toll may rise as soldiers continue searching the wreckage for possible survivors and injured.
An explosives-laden 4x4 drove into a crowded market in the Urgun district of Paktika, said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman. The ensuing explosion caused massive damage, destroying 20 of the surrounding shops and injuring at least 42 people.
"The explosion was so big it destroyed many shops. Dozens of people are trapped under the roofs," Mohammad Raza Kharoti, the district governor, told Reuters.
The Afghan military have deployed helicopters and ambulances to carry the victims to the provincial capital of Sharan.
Urgun is located close to the volatile border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan region where military forces have been routing Pakistani Taliban from their hideouts, inadvertently driving them into Afghanistan.
The Taliban issued a statement following the bombing claiming they had nothing to do with the attack.
"The truth behind this attack will become clear after an investigation, but we clearly announce that it was not done by the Mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement.
The market explosion followed a roadside bomb that struck a minivan carrying employees from the presidential palace in Kabul early Tuesday morning. Two passengers were killed as the blast ripped through the vehicle and five other people were injured, Afghan officials said.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, sent a statement to reporters claiming the group’s responsibility for the roadside attack.
The Taliban has stepped up its terror attacks ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of US-led alliance troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year. Washington is currently pushing for the Afghan government to sign a security pact that would allow a contingent of troops to stay behind after withdrawal to help with internal security.
Current President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the pact, but elections were held earlier this year and both frontrunners, finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have pledged to put pen to paper if they are elected to office.
Although the elections were held in April, the results have been delayed because of reports of mass vote-fixing.
Last week NATO’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the Afghan
government must have the pact signed before September otherwise
there will be “severe problems” with the Western
“If there is no clarification of this process before the NATO summit in September, it is hard to see how the security agreements could be signed before the summit,” the NATO secretary-general said last Tuesday.
As US and NATO troops prepare to leave Afghanistan at the end of the year, there is possibility the country may go the same way as Iraq, Chris Bambery, political analyst, told RT.
“I think there is a danger and that would create an arc of instability stretching through Syria, Iraq and into Afghanistan. And that will be worrying many of its neighbors, China, Iran and Russia. And it’s an indictment of, for well over a decade now, the American and NATO occupation of Afghanistan,” he said.