Afghan suicide bomber kills 15 in market attack
A suicide bomber has killed at least 15 people, including women and children, in anorthern Afghan market on Wednesday, as militant forces step up their annual summer offensive in the war-torn country, despite fledgling peace talks.
The attack in Almar district of Faryab province, bordering Turkmenistan, highlights the heavy toll of such attacks on civilians after 13 years of war.
No group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, which comes just before another round of peace negotiations between the government and Taliban militants are due to start.
"This morning a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in a market in Almar," Faryab governor Abdul Sattar Barez told AFP.
"Our information shows at least 15 people were killed in the attack, including women and children and at least one Afghan army soldier," he said, adding that around 38 others were wounded.
Almar district chief Saleh Mohammad Saleh confirmed the death toll.
Taliban insurgents, who launched their annual summer offensive in late April, have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets despite official efforts to jumpstart peace talks.
Civilians often fall victim to insurgent attacks, with almost 1,000 Afghan civilians killed during the first four months of the year, according to the UN mission in Afghanistan.
Ghani's government has drawn criticism for failing to end an increasing number of insurgent attacks, which critics partly blame on the protracted delay in the appointment of a defence minister.
The crucial post has not been filled since Ghani came to power last September.
US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan in December, leaving local forces to battle the Taliban alone, but a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.
Afghan officials sat down with Taliban cadres this month in Murree, a tourist town in the hills north of Islamabad, Pakistan, for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency.
They agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing praise from Islamabad, Beijing, Washington and the United Nations.
Afghan officials have not said when and where the next round of negotiations will take place, but they are widely expected to be conducted in the coming days.
But despite the willingness to engage in peace talks there has been no letup in militant attacks on foreign and government targets, leaving Afghan forces stretched on multiple fronts and inflicting a heavy blow on civilians.
Earlier this month 33 people were killed in a suicide attack at a military base in the eastern province of Khost and a few days later 25 civilians were wounded in a bombing inside a mosque in northern Baghlan province.