A bomb attack on a wedding party has killed at least 40 people, including 14 children, in restive southern Afghanistan. Over 70 people were injured. Officials said the attack appeared to have been a suicide bombing.
A man walks in front of a house damaged in the blast
The blast took place at a wedding party in Kandahar province's Arghandab district late Wednesday. Hundreds of guests were gathered to attend the ceremony. Among them were reportedly also guests who had links to local police officials or a local militia.
The exact cause of the carnage remains unclear, but the authorities said initial reports indicated that a suicide bomber strapped with explosives blew himself up at the party. "All experts are of the opinion that the heavy casualties were caused by a suicide bombing," said Toryalai Wisa, Kandahar's provincial Governor.
Taliban deny involvement
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the bombing as a "terrorist attack". "This attack is the work of those cruel people who act against Islamic and divine values," Karzai's office said in a statement.
Afghan men stand around the bodies of people killed in the blast
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. "The groom works for a private security company and had naturally invited a lot of his friends and relatives," Wisa explained.
The Taliban have denied any involvement. "The Taliban wage Jihad (holy war) in order to free the people from the hands of occupiers. How can we kill them?", one of their spokespersons told Reuters news agency.
But NATO has blamed the Taliban. "This ruthless violence brought to the Afghan people at what should have been a time for celebration demonstrates the Taliban's sickening and indiscriminate tactics," said Lieutenant General Nick Parker.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. The NATO-led military forces plan to launch a massive offensive against the militants and to gain control of the region.
General Stanley McChrystal
However, General Stanley McChrystal, who is the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said that the operations in Kandahar will move at a slower pace than initially planned. "I think it will take a number of months for this to play out," McChrystal told reporters in Brussels. "It's more important we get it right than we get it fast," he added.
Apart from the shortage of Afghan forces, McChrystal said more political work was required to prepare the ground for the military operation. This includes winning the support of the local population who are so far skeptic about it.
Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein