KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A homicide attacker detonated a bomb that killed at least five people and wounded 30 at a crowded funeral in eastern Afghanistan for a provincial governor assassinated in similar attack launched by the Taliban the previous day, officials said.
The attack came amid an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead across Afghanistan in recent months, the bloodiest period since the U.S.-led ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting Usama bin Laden. On Monday NATO said airstrikes and artillery killed 92 suspected Taliban fighters.
The blast went off near a tent where more than 1,000 people, including Cabinet ministers, had congregated in Tani district of Khost province for the burial of Paktia Gov. Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the highest-profile victim of a spate of suicide attacks launched by supporters of the ousted Islamic regime.
Four federal ministers — for interior, refugees, telecommunications and administrative affairs — were leaving the funeral when the powerful bomb went off and were unhurt, said Mohammed Ayub, the provincial police chief.
He said they had been about 800 yards away from the explosion. Police established two security cordons around the ministers who left by helicopter soon after, he said.
At least five police were killed, Ayub said. Between 30 and 40 other people were wounded and taken to the hospital in the Khost provincial capital, about 30 miles to the north of Tani, Dr Alam Gul said. The bomber also died. There were no immediate details of his identity or how he executed the attack.
The bombing caused carnage and chaos, and police fired in the air to control panicking mourners fearing there might be a second blast.
Taniwal died on Sunday with his nephew and bodyguard in a suicide attack outside his office in the Paktia capital of Gardez that was claimed by the Taliban.
The deadliest violence has been in the south, where NATO-led forces have been struggling to restore order. Their presence has sparked intense fighting with insurgents.
The deaths of the 92 suspected Taliban fighters pushed the toll of militant dead in a 10-day offensive near the main southern city of Kandahar past 510.
There has been no independent confirmation of the casualty numbers from Operation Medusa, which began Sept. 2. Hostilities have prevented journalists from reaching the battlefield. Taliban spokesmen have disputed the high figures and said the alliance should display bodies as proof.
"With our considerable technical intelligence, human intelligence and surveillance onto the battle area, we are able to establish figures to a reasonable level of accuracy," a NATO statement quoted Col. Chris Vernon, chief of staff for the NATO force in the south, as saying.
"The Taliban in the Panjwayi-Zhari area have suffered significant attrition."
The latest deaths came when insurgents staged a counterattack in Kandahar province on Sunday, the statement said. It added that the casualties in the province's Panjwayi and Zhari districts were in addition to 94 militants it had already reported as dying in a clash earlier that day.
NATO has said that 20 foreign soldiers have died in the operation, 14 of them in a British reconnaissance plane crash. It says it has yet to confirm any of the several civilian casualties reported by Afghan government and hospital officials.
NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy said that Taliban fighters were now fleeing the battlefield but its forces were maintaining pressure on them.
Local residents said hundreds of insurgents left the area on Saturday night.
Also Monday, Afghan security forces supported by NATO regained control of a remote southern town after six-day occupation by Taliban militants, police said.
NATO warplanes launched airstrikes in the fighting in Garmser, in volatile Helmand province, that left 20 Taliban fighters dead or wounded, provincial police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhel said. But the security forces only retrieved four bodies since the militants took the others away.
Taliban had seized the district headquarters on Sept. 6 after an attack that forced police to flee for the second time in two months.