Reuters, February 17, 2008

Suicide bomber kills at least 80 - deadliest attack in Afghanistan

After the blast, some of Hakim's guards fired at the crowd causing casualties, witnesses said.

By Ismail Sameem and Mirwais Afghan

A suicide bomber killed more than 80 people at a picnic spot in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Sunday in the most deadly attack since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, the government said.

The attack will add urgency to a debate about how the United States and Afghanistan's other allies can help stem militant violence and promote stability.

80 killed in Kandahar
Bodies are loaded onto the back of a truck after a blast in Kandahar province February 17, 2008. A suspected suicide bomb attack at a picnic spot in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Sunday killed at least 60 people, and possibly as many as 80, the provincial governor said. (REUTERS/Ismail Sameem)

"This event ... left behind more than 80 killed and 50 wounded," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The death toll may rise because some of the wounded were in a critical condition.

The attack happened in a field where a crowd of people including police were watching dog fights in Arghandab, on the western outskirts of Kandahar city.

Kandahar governor Assadullah Khalid said it was the work of Afghanistan's enemies, a term used by the government to refer to Taliban insurgents and their al Qaeda militant allies.

The Taliban, behind a surge of suicide attacks against foreign forces and the Afghan government, could not immediately be contacted for comment.

The head of an auxiliary police force in Kandahar, Abdul Hakim, was among the dead, Khalid said.

After the blast, some of Hakim's guards fired at the crowd causing casualties, witnesses said.

Reporters were not allowed to talk to the wounded in hospitals and officials had no comment about the reports of police firing.

The Interior Ministry said it was the bloodiest attack since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.

In November, a suicide bomb attack against a group of lawmakers and subsequent firing by police killed more than 75 people, including six politicians, in the northern province of Baghlan.

After that blast, it was not clear how many were killed by the bomb and how many by the police firing.


Thirteen other policemen and six children were killed on Sunday, a police official near the site of the blast said.

"The match was going on and all of a sudden the explosion went off," said witness Abdul Rahman whose brother was killed.

Dog-fighting is a popular pastime in Afghanistan. The hard-line Taliban banned it during their rule, along with other forms of entertainment such as music, dancing and television.

Kandahar is a stronghold of the Taliban who largely rely on suicide attacks and roadside bombings in their campaign to force foreign troops out of Afghanistan and topple its government.

Despite the presence of more than 50,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military, as well as some 140,000 Afghan troops, the militants have made a comeback in the past two years, and more than 11,000 people have been killed in violence.

Most has been concentrated in areas bordering Pakistan where the militants have taken refuge in lawless border areas from where they have also attacked deeper into Pakistan.

Some Western politicians say more troops are needed to tackle the insurgency or Afghanistan will slide back into anarchy.

President Hamid Karzai who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted instead wants the strengthening of the Western-trained Afghan forces and more funds.

(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Robert Birsel and Robert Woodward)

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