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Deadly drone strike in Afghanistan blamed on US forces

Afghan security members and civilians work at the site of a suicide attack in Zabul, Afghanistan Picture by Ahmad Wali Sarhadi/AP
By Tameem Akhgar, Associated Press

A powerful early morning suicide truck bomb has devastated a hospital in southern Afghanistan, killing as many as 20 people and wounding more than 90 others, an official said, while a deadly drone strike in the east was blamed on US forces.

The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the bombing, have carried out near-daily attacks since peace talks with the US collapsed earlier this month.

Thursday's massive explosion destroyed part of the hospital in Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, and left a fleet of ambulances broken and battered.

Residents, many of whom had come to see sick family members, used shawls and blankets to carry casualties inside the destroyed building, while authorities scrambled to take the worst of the wounded to hospitals in nearby Kandahar.

Hours earlier, a drone attack in Nangarhar province killed and wounded as many as 30 people, most of them civilians, Jawaid Zaman, presidential adviser on tribal affairs, said. There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the US military in Afghanistan.

Angry residents carried 12 bodies to the provincial capital Jalalabad protesting over the attack, provincial council head Ahmad Ali Hazrat said. Many more people are believed to be missing.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the target was Islamic State group militants in the area, but according to Mr Zaman residents had notified the authorities in the area that they would be collecting dried fruit. As many as 50 people were in the fields when the aerial attack occurred, he said.

In the hours immediately after the explosion, there were contradictory figures of the dead and wounded. The provincial governor's spokesman Gul Islam Seyal put the death toll at 12 but said authorities were on the scene sifting through the debris. Atta Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council, put the death toll at 20.

Morning prayers had just finished when worshippers were stunned by the ear-splitting blast that destroyed parts of a mosque next to the hospital, Mahboob Hakimi, a resident of Qalat, said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the target was a nearby intelligence office, which he claimed was destroyed and "tens of intelligence operatives killed/wounded".

Mr Haqbayan said the wall of the National Security Department (NDS) building was damaged. He could not say whether any personnel were among the casualties.

Provincial governor Rahmatullah Yarmal said many of the dead and wounded were women and children. On Twitter, an Afghan National Security Forces soldier posted a picture of a six-month-old child, saying troops were searching through the rubble for the parents and seeking the public's help.

President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, condemned the attack, tweeting that the Taliban "continue to target civilians while their leaders travel to Iran and Russia", a reference to the Taliban negotiators' recent forays seeking support abroad.

The violence has further rattled the country as it prepares for national elections later this month. Two separate bombings on Tuesday, including one that targeted Mr Ghani's election rally, killed 48 people, mostly civilians. The Taliban claimed both attacks.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban political office in Qatar, said in a tweet that a ceasefire had been part of a US-Taliban deal before President Donald Trump declared it "dead".

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