A suicide bomber targeting an American military delegation outside a government office in eastern Afghanistan has killed 13 people, including 10 schoolchildren and two international service members.
The attack comes as the Taliban and other militants step up bombings and raids on police posts nationwide in a major test of the ability of Afghan soldiers and police to hold ground without international military forces, which are now withdrawing.
General Zelmia Oryakhail, provincial police chief of Paktia province, said the bomber was on a motorcycle and detonated his explosives in Samkani district as American forces passed.
He said a local school had just let pupils, who were aged between 10 and 16 years old, out for the day.
The American military delegation had just attended a security briefing at the district administrative office, said district chief Saleh Mohammad Ahsas, who was in the meeting. He said the bomber appeared to have been waiting for them and struck as they left the compound. The blast killed people walking nearby, including the schoolchildren.
The US military coalition in Afghanistan confirmed that two of its service members died in the explosion. It did not confirm their nationalities.
Ten schoolchildren and one Afghan police officer were killed, the Afghan Ministry of Interior said.
Seven more Afghan civilians including two children were also killed today in the eastern province of Laghman when their vehicle hit a bomb in the road.
A statement from the provincial government said a group of four women and two children had gone with a male driver into the hills to collect firewood. On their way back, their vehicle hit the device and all inside were killed.
The Afghan army and police are this year fighting the insurgency with little or no help from international forces that have been in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion to topple the Taliban for sheltering al-Qaida’s terrorist leadership after the September 11 attacks.
As the 2014 withdrawal of most international forces looms, insurgents appear to have intensified their attacks, using a broad range of tactics from suicide bombings to improvised bombs accidentally detonated by passing vehicles. An assassination campaign against police chiefs and local government officials has continued.
In recent weeks, hundreds of Taliban fighters have attempted to take over more territory with attacks on police posts in several parts of the country. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi confirmed that Taliban have launched multiple assaults – assisted, he said, by al-Qaida and the Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network – but he insisted Afghan forces were holding their ground.
“The enemy was not able to get control of a single district, not even a police checkpoint,” he said, adding that in the last week alone, security forces have killed 196 Taliban and arrested 117 others.