Afghan hospital suicide bomb toll rises to 38

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The toll from a suicide car bombing at an Afghan hospital rose to 38 Sunday, a local official said, days after President Barack Obama said 10,000 US troops would leave the country this year.

Many of the victims in Logar province, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Kabul, were women and children who had been at the hospital's maternity ward, and as many as 50 people were also wounded.

The devastating attack came just weeks before international forces are due to start handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts in seven areas of the country.

An eyewitness described horrific scenes of victims on fire and body parts scattered in all directions after a sports utility vehicle (SUV) blew up in the remote district of Azra, close to the border with Pakistan, on Saturday.

Following initial official confusion over the death toll, local officials said Sunday the figures of those killed and injured had risen overnight.

Provincial health director Mohammad Zaref Nayebkhail said that 38 people were killed and 50 wounded.

"There are differences in figures given by other government sources because soon after the blast, villagers took some of the dead bodies home immediately and they were not counted," he said.

"Some of the bodies were later taken out of the collapsed rooms and debris. Some of the wounded also died later. We have counted all of them."

District police chief Bakhtiar Gul put the death toll at 33, with another 45 wounded.

One man who lives near the hospital, Abdul Rahman, told AFP he lost seven relatives in the explosion.

"Seven members of my family including three women and two children went to that hospital," he said in tears. "I was at home, then I heard a big explosion. When I rushed to the site, I saw many dead and injured people.

"Many of them were burning, on fire. There were body parts everywhere. My family is dead, I can't find them, they are under the rubble."

The Taliban denied they were behind the attack, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying: "We condemn this attack on a hospital... whoever has done this wants to defame the Taliban."

UN special representative Staffan de Mistura called the blast "despicable".

"Much of the damage was in the maternity ward of the hospital, and many of those killed and injured were women and children," he said in a statement.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan also stressed that attacks on hospitals were prohibited under international humanitarian law.

In a separate incident on Saturday, an eight-year-old Afghan girl was killed when insurgents detonated a bomb in a bag which they had given her to take to police nearby, the interior ministry said Sunday.

The incident, in which there were no other casualties, happened in the southern province of Uruzgan.

"The child, pure-hearted and in good faith, took the bag and moved towards the police vehicle," the ministry's statement said.

"As she got close to the police vehicle, the enemy detonated the bomb by remote control, killing the innocent child."

And in northwestern Badghi province two Spanish soldiers were killed and another three injured when their armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb, Spain's defence ministry said on Sunday.

The incidents came at the end of a week when Obama announced that 33,000 US troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

All foreign combat forces are due to pull out of the country by the end of 2014 when Afghan forces assume responsibility for security nationwide. There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States.

Some analysts fear that Afghan security forces may struggle to contain the Taliban-led insurgency, which has hit record levels of violence after nearly 10 years, as withdrawals begin.

The blast in Logar was the second major attack in Afghanistan in two days.

On Friday, 10 people were killed by a bicycle bomb which exploded in a busy bazaar in the Khad Abad district of the northern province of Kunduz.

Militants in Afghanistan frequently target the Afghan police, army and other government employees as well as foreign forces in their near decade-long insurgency.

But civilians are the biggest casualties in the war, with 2,777 killed last year, according to the United Nations. That was the biggest total since the war started in 2001.

© 2011 AFP

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