Suicide bomber strikes Afghan market, killing 5

KABUL – A suicide bomber struck in a crowded market in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing five civilians and wounding nine others, a local official said.

Aminullah Shariq, governor of the Paktika province, said the attacker was on foot and had apparently missed a military target when he blew himself up among midmorning shoppers.

In northern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber targeting an Afghan army minibus near a base killed at least three soldiers and wounded another 18 military personnel, said Munir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the governor of Balkh province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to media.

In the eastern Nangarhar province, a presidential palace guard was shot dead inside his home in an attack that also wounded his mother, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor. He said an investigation into the attack is underway.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces in the past year, waging offensives across the country, but the chaos of the war also masks criminal behaviour and personal feuds.

Deputy presidential spokesman Zafar Hashemi said Afghan forces were fighting intense battles with insurgents in the northern Baghlan province, which he described as a strategic location linking the north to the capital, Kabul.

Hashemi expressed hope that a fourth meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States scheduled for Feb. 23 would lead to a revival of direct talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the 15-year war.

“We are hopeful that in the next meeting we will be able to specify a date for the first direct talks,” Hashemi said, adding that there were two clear choices for the Taliban – “terrorism or peace under Afghanistan’s constitution.”