Dozens of civilians, mainly women and children, were killed in western Afghanistan on Wednesday when the bus they were travelling on hit an improvised explosive device.
The passenger bus travelling on the Kandahar-Herat highway struck a “Taliban roadside bomb” and at least 32 people were killed and 17 wounded, said Muhibullah Muhib, the spokesman for Farah province.
“The bomb was freshly planted by the Taliban insurgents to target Afghan and foreign security forces,” he said, adding all victims were civilians, mostly women and children.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan presidency, put the death toll slightly higher at 34, also blaming it on the Taliban.
A Taliban official, however, said their fighters were not responsible for planting landmines in the area. “The blast has not been conducted by the Taliban, we are investigating the incident,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
Security has been deteriorating across Afghanistan with the Taliban and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters mounting near-daily attacks on Afghan forces, government employees, and civilians.
The Taliban, who effectively control half the country, have been meeting with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad since late last year. They appear to be closing in on an agreement whereby American forces would withdraw from Afghanistan in return for guarantees it wouldn’t be used as a launch-pad for international attacks.
Child casualties represented almost one-third of the overall total of civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year.
“Sadly, this senseless loss of life is all too common in Afghanistan. Just in the past month hundreds of children have been killed or injured as a result of explosive weapons,” Onno van Manen, country director of Save the Children, said of Wednesday’s carnage.
“Today’s loss of life is especially shocking because of ongoing peace efforts. We call on all parties to continue on the path of peace, without paving it with death and destruction,” he said in a statement.