Kabul, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber targeting an American patrol outside a busy market in eastern Afghanistan killed 13 people on Monday, including 10 schoolchildren who were walking nearby and two international service members, officials said.
Gen. Zelmia Oryakhail, provincial police chief of Paktia province, said the bomber was on a motorcycle and detonated his explosives at midday outside the market in Samkani district as American forces passed. He said a local school had just let pupils out for lunch.
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. It did not say the ages of the children.
In recent weeks, Taliban insurgents have unleashed a wave of suicide bombers to hit government targets and international agencies in the country, and militants have been attacking police checkpoints in several provinces in a major test for the security forces of President Hamid Karzai’s government.
The insurgents have also littered the country’s roads with homemade landmines and roadside bombs that often kill civilians.
Also Monday, a landmine killed seven Afghan civilians in the eastern province of Laghman. 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 mine 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 on American soil.
As the withdrawal of most international forces looms, there are tentative parallel efforts to encourage negotiations.
The Taliban confirmed on Monday that it sent a delegation to Iran for three days of talks, signalling that Tehran could be seeking the role of regional mediator in negotiations to end its neighbour’s 12-year war.
Spokesman Qari Yousif Ahmadi said in an email that emissaries from the Taliban’s political office met with Iranian officials over the weekend. He said a separate group of Taliban clerics attended a religious conference in Tehran.
An Iranian news agency said on Saturday that Tehran had hosted a Taliban delegation — an unprecedented development, since the Sunni Muslim Taliban have long been enemies of Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics.
Ahmadi also said the Taliban’s political wing would accept any invitation for conferences, a possible good sign for so-far fruitless efforts to negotiate an end to the Afghan war.
Tentative peace talks have sputtered in the past.