July 15 (Bloomberg) -- Ninety people were killed in a suicide attack at a crowded market in eastern Afghanistan three days after the U.S. brokered a deal to audit votes in a disputed presidential election.
The country’s deadliest attack this year wounded more than 40 civilians in Paktika province, deputy police chief Nisar Ahmad Abdulrahimzai said by phone. The Taliban has denied responsibility for the strike, which occurred as Muslims fast in the holy month of Ramadan.
“A bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a crowded market in the Orgun district,” Abdulrahimzai said. The attack took place this morning and more than 20 shops were destroyed, he added.
Afghan civilian casualties rose 24 percent in the first half of 2014 from a year earlier, the United Nations reported this month, as the nation prepares for its first transfer of power since the U.S invasion in 2001. Both candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai have vowed to sign a pact that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year.
“We clearly state the attack was not the work of mujahideen,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an e-mailed statement. The blast was an attempt by enemies to damage the Taliban’s image, he wrote.
Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai agreed to an audit of all votes and the formation of a unity government. The pact was brokered late on July 12 by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jan Kubis, the UN envoy in Afghanistan.
Today’s attack was Afghanistan’s deadliest terrorist incident this year, Siddiq Siddiqui, an interior ministry spokesman, said by phone. Landslides in May in northern Afghanistan caused more than 2,000 deaths.
More than 1,500 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,289 injured between January to June, with 74 percent of these caused by anti-government elements including Taliban militants, the UN said in a July 9 report.
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year, with only a small force at the embassy by the end of 2016, when he will be preparing to leave office. Thirteen years of U.S. fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost 2,333 American lives so far, as of June 24.
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