10 killed in suicide attack on Afghan security forces

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 10, 2018.
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad on July 10, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) - A suicide attacker blew himself up near an Afghan security forces vehicle on Tuesday (July 10), killing at least 10 people, mostly civilians, officials said, in the latest deadly violence to rock the country.

The explosion in the eastern city of Jalalabad also left at least four people wounded and set a nearby petrol station alight, the provincial governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

Eight civilians were among the dead, Mr Khogyani added.

Some of the victims were brought to hospital with severe burns, health director Najibullah Kamawal said, confirming the casualty toll.

"I saw a big ball of fire that threw people away. The people were burning," Mr Esmatullah, who witnessed the incident, told AFP.

Tolo News posted a video online purportedly showing several burned-out vehicles and gutted shops at the scene of the attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest assault in restive Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has claimed a series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group.

While the Taleban is Afghanistan's largest militant group, ISIS has a relatively small but potent presence mainly in the east and north of the country.

Tuesday's attack comes a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed "hope" for peace talks between the Afghan government and Taleban during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

Mr Pompeo's first trip to Afghanistan since he was sworn in as America's top diplomat in April came amid renewed optimism for peace in the war-weary country, following last month's unprecedented ceasefire by the Taleban and Kabul during Eid.

The Islamic holiday was marked by spontaneous street celebrations involving Afghan security forces and Taleban militants, raising hopes peace was possible after 17 years of war.

"An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope," Mr Pompeo told a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"Many of the Taleban now see that they can't win on the ground militarily. That's very deeply connected to President Trump's strategy," he said, referring to Mr Trump's much-vaunted South Asia policy announced last August.

The ceasefire did not extend to the ISIS franchise in Afghanistan, which first emerged in the country in 2014 and established a stronghold in Nangarhar before spreading north.

The most recent major attack in Jalalabad on July 1 saw 19 people killed and 21 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

The group had been waiting to meet Mr Ghani, who was visiting the city, when the bomber struck.

That came after two separate suicide attacks in Nangarhar during the ceasefire that were also claimed by ISIS.

Violence is expected to continue ahead of Afghanistan's long-delayed legislative elections on Oct 20 that militants have vowed to disrupt.

Afghan security forces, already struggling to beat back the Taleban and ISIS on the battlefield, will be responsible for protecting polling stations, many of which will be located in schools.