Suicide bomber kills 33 in bloody attack outside Afghan bank

It comes as the country braces itself for what is expected to be a bloody push by the Taliban at the start of the fighting season.

People run for cover after an explosion in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on April 18, 2015. Parwiz/Reuters
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JALALABAD // A suicide bomber killed at least 33 people and wounded 100 others in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday in the country’s deadliest attack since November.

The bombing, which took place outside a bank, comes as Afghanistan braces itself for what is expected to be a bloody push by the Taliban at the start of the fighting season.

“Thirty-three dead bodies and more than 100 wounded were brought to the hospital,” said Dr Najeebullah Kamawal, head of the provincial hospital.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, provincial government spokesman, confirmed the attack but put the death toll slightly lower at 30.

“The explosion happened outside the bank when government employees and civilians were collecting their monthly salaries,” he said.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack, which saw children among those killed, his office said in a statement.

“Carrying out terrorist attacks in cities and public places are the most cowardly acts of terror by terrorists targeting innocent civilians,” president Ghani said.

The scene of the attack showed the gruesome scale of the carnage with people lying in pools of blood and body parts scattered across the ground.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the bombing.

However, the militants have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets since Washington back-pedalled on plans to shrink the United States force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half.

On April 10, a suicide car bomber killed three civilians in an attack targeting a Nato convoy in Jalalabad.

The same day, in the remote mountainous north-east province of Badakhshan, Taliban fighters killed 18 Afghan soldiers – including some who were beheaded – after storming an army outpost a week ago.

The predawn raid in the Jurm district of Badakhshan marked a grim setback for Afghan forces, who are set to face their first fighting season in which they battle insurgents without full Nato support.

Nato’s combat mission formally ended in December but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security forces.

President Barack Obama last month announced a delay in US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Hosting president Ghani at the White House for their first presidential face-to-face meeting, Mr Obama agreed to keep the current level of 9,800 US troops until the end of 2015.

The Taliban, who have waged a deadly insurgency since they were ousted from power in late 2001, warned that the announcement would damage any prospects of peace talks as they vowed to continue fighting.

A US watchdog said in a report last month that Afghan security forces were suffering heavy casualties on the battlefield and large numbers of troops were resigning or deserting their units.

Between October 2013 and September 2014, more than 1,300 Afghan army soldiers were killed in action and 6,200 were wounded, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in its report.

Between September 2013 and September 2014, more than 40,000 personnel were dropped from Afghan national army rolls, it said.

The Pentagon insists the Afghan forces are holding their own after the bulk of Nato combat forces withdrew last year.

But senior US officers have voiced concern at the high casualty and attrition rates plaguing the Afghan army.

* Agence France-Presse