Afghanistan Suicide Bomber Kills 45 In A Volleyball Tournament
Late Sunday afternoon, a suicide bomber in Afghanistan detonated explosives killing 45 people and injuring many more at a crowded volleyball game. Initial estimates suggest that 60 people were wounded as a result of the violence in the Yahyakhail district of the Paktika province. According to reports, the bomber was traveling on foot and mingling in the crowds during the finals of an inter-district volleyball tournament when he set off his explosives. Mokhis Afgha, the spokesman for the governor of Paktika province, told the Associated Press, "There were too many people gathered in the one place to watch the game. Dozens of others are wounded and we have reports that many of them are in critical condition."
Afgha also noted that the district would "need urgent help from the central government because we might need to transfer wounded people to Kabul for treatment." Paktika is a border state with neighboring Pakistan, and has seen its fair share of violence in the last few years. The region is known to be one of the most dangerous in the country, with the Taliban maintaining a strong hold in the surrounding area. The tribal and rural area serves as a resting ground and safe haven of sorts for many militant groups, and while security has been improved, the region is still one of the most dangerous in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year in July, Paktika also served as the site of another deadly bombing, this one in a crowded marketplace that ultimately killed 89 people. Talk of an insurgency-led uprising has heightened fears of renewed bloodshed, and there seems to be an impending war against the government in Kabul. No one, thus far, has claimed responsibility for the violence.
NBC News reports that according to the ministry of the interior, the bomb intended to inflict maximum damage — the explosives contained several ball-bearings that were meant to serve as shrapnel that would maximize its destructive effects. According to NBC, the explosion happened at the game's conclusion as people were exiting the premises. The total death count is expected to rise, as many of the several dozen injured are in serious condition.
Volleyball is known to be a popular sport throughout the region, and the match on Sunday drew large crowds of spectators and participants. This is not the first time a volleyball game has been chosen as the target of such a deadly attack. Four years ago on New Years Day of 2010, a nearly identical attack at a volleyball match in Pakistan killed 105 and injured 100 more. This was largely believed to be a response to the decision to form a pro-government group that would fight against Taliban forces. Just weeks before the bombing, militants swore to kill anyone who dared enter the pro-government group.
Sunday's attack marks the deadliest incident of the year, and came immediately following announcements of an agreement between the Afghan government and American and NATO forces to allow international troops to stay in the country past 2014. Around 12,000 NATO forces would be left in the region, with the mission of "training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces." But on Saturday, President Obama also noted that he would allow American forces to engage in combat with the Taliban and, as the BBC reports, "provide air support for Afghan missions."
The deadly bombing comes at a time of distinct unrest throughout the country. The recent inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani came after a highly contested election that was the first time power had ever transferred hands in Afghanistan by way of a vote. Ghani's first major move as the new leader of the country was to sign agreements with NATO and the United States, which may have led to the attack. The move was vehemently opposed by the Taliban and other groups who are looking to end all western involvement in domestic issues. Unfortunately, their retaliation seems to be swift. Though Obama has noted that he hopes all troops will be withdrawn from the region by the end of his presidency in 2016, it is not yet clear how feasible a solution this will be.
Despite the slow withdrawal of foreign troops, the United Nations reports that 2014 remains one of the deadliest years for Afghani civilians to date. In the first six months of the year alone, 5,000 deaths and injuries were catalogued, and violence has only escalated since. The vast majority of these attacks thus far have been blamed on the Taliban and other jihadist groups, who have launched a series of attacks and assassinations this year after 13 years of bloody conflict. As of February 2014, it is estimated that upwards of 21,000 civilians have died violent deaths as a result of the war.
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