KABUL // Up to 25 hospital patients and staff were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber struck a medical clinic in Afghanistan's south-east Logar province.
A man wearing an explosive-laden vest and driving a sport utility vehicle packed with homemade bombs targeted the clinic in the mountainous Azra district 25 kilometres south-east of the capital in the latest in a series of attacks on civilians.
He barrelled past clinic guards to the hospital's main building where he detonated the explosives. Some of the casualties occurred when the building collapsed from the explosion, the Afghan Ministry of Interior said.
The Ministry of Health initially reported 60 people dead and another 120 injured, but later revised the death toll to "between 13 and 25".
Logar's provincial director of public health, Mohammed Zarif Naibkhel, said guards had tried to prevent the attacker from driving his vehicle into the compound. "The driver didn't stop and he entered the compound and reached the main building of the health centre, where the lorry detonated," he said.
Mr Naibkhel said he believed the original death count of 60 was more accurate. He said a number of local families rushed to the scene and carried their dead and injured relatives away before they could be counted. Ten children and 20 women were among the dead and wounded. A midwife and the husband of the clinic's director were killed.
"At least 90 per cent of the building is damaged and most of the casualties are from the building having collapsed," said Mr Naibkhel. "Locals are still digging for people under the rubble, and it is possible there are still bodies there that we have not counted."
The Taliban denied being responsible for the bombing. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents, told reporters: "This attack was not done by our fighters."
The Taliban has sought in recent weeks to minimise fallout from its more deadly operations that have left scores of civilians dead.
In May, the Islamists announced the start of their annual spring offensive against Afghan and Nato troops, warning civilians to stay away from military centres and gathering places.
Taliban-led militants are waging a fierce insurgency against Afghan and about 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Last year was the deadliest for Afghans, according to the United Nations, with civilian deaths up by 15 per cent from 2009 to 2010 as Nato takes its fight to the Taliban in key Afghan provinces.
"When there are too many innocent civilians killed, the Taliban, they deny it was their attack. They want to hide the fact that they were responsible," said Saleh Mohammad, a member of the Afghan parliament.
The clinic, named the Comprehensive Health Center of Akbharkhel, was recently converted from a maternity hospital to a 10-bed clinic offering general health services to about 15,000 people in Azra district, Mr Naibkhel said.
He said the clinic was refurbished three months ago with a $500,000 (Dh1.8m) grant. Azra's rugged mountains and dangerous roads make access to the meagre health services difficult.
There has been an increase in violence in recent months in Logar, which has a population of just over 322,000, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, an organisation that analyses risk for aid groups in the country. The level of insurgent attacks doubled from May to June of this year, according to the safety office.
Late on Friday, another blast - this one caused by a bicycle rigged with explosives - ripped through a bazaar in the Khanabad district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people, including a police officer. At least 24 people were wounded in the attack. The attacks followed the US president Barack Obama's announcement last Wednesday that he plans to withdraw 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Nato officials say Afghan armed forces will be ready to take over more security duties, and by 2014 the Afghan government will be prepared for full sovereignty.
* additional reporting from the Associated Press