A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday amid a crowd at a volleyball tournament in eastern Afghanistan, killing 45 people and injuring dozens more in the deadliest attack since a new government took power, officials said.
The evening explosion in Paktika province was a chilling reminder of the violence that insurgents continue to inflict on Afghanistan despite the inauguration of a national unity government two months ago and the impending withdrawal of most U.S.-led international troops.
Mokhles Afghan, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the bomber was mingling with spectators at a local volleyball tournament when he detonated a vest packed with explosives.
“There are children and teenagers among the dead,” said Najib Danesh, a spokesman for the interior ministry. An unknown number of police officers were also killed, but the vast majority of the casualties were civilians, Danesh said.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said he “deplores the heinous attack that took the life of many Afghan civilians.”
The attack occurred in Yahyakhail district in Paktika, on the border with Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents have long battled Afghan government forces for control of the rugged area. In July, some 89 people were killed in a car bombing at a busy marketplace in the same province.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, but it bore the hallmarks of the Taliban, which have increased attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan as U.S.-led NATO forces were preparing to end their combat mission at the end of December.
Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament on Sunday approved a bilateral security pact with the United States and a similar agreement with NATO, paving the way for a smaller contingent of international forces to continue serving in Afghanistan past the end of the year.
Of the estimated 12,000 foreign troops to remain, about 9,800 are expected to come from the United States and will mainly advise and train Afghan soldiers and police. President Obama reportedly wants all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
The agreements, which President Ashraf Ghani’s government signed immediately after taking office in September, passed the Wolesi Jirga chamber overwhelmingly, with 149 representatives voting for them and five voting against.
Ghani said he welcomed the action and called on the upper house to ratify the treaties as soon as possible.
Special correspondent Ahmadi reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from Madikeri, India.