A suicide bomber has struck a volleyball match in southeastern Afghanistan, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 80 others.
The bloodshed near the border with Pakistan came as the Afghan parliament gave its approval to security pacts with the United States and NATO to allow them to maintain a smaller military mission in Afghanistan past 2014.
Authorities in the Afghan province of Paktika, where Sunday’s bombing occurred, say most of the victims are civilians, including children.
Describing the incident by phone to VOA, provincial spokesman Mukhles Afghan said residents from nearby districts had gathered in Yahya Khel to watch a volleyball match when a man with explosives strapped to his body walked into the crowd and detonated the bomb.
The spokesman said the powerful explosion instantly caused most of the deaths, and those seriously wounded were being flown to hospitals in the provincial capital.
Paktika is one of the Afghan border regions in the east where insurgents of the Haqqani Network have an active presence. The al-Qaida-linked militant group is fighting U.S.-led allied forces alongside the Taliban. The Afghan province was the site of a massive car bomb in July that ripped through a crowded market, killing dozens of people.
Spike in attacks
Insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces have spiked in the country as NATO prepares to end its combat mission and withdraw most forces from Afghanistan.
Sunday’s bloodshed came hours after the lower house of the Afghan parliament approved security agreements with the United States and NATO. President Ashraf Ghani signed the two agreements immediately after assuming office in late September.
Under the pacts, about 12,000 international troops will remain in Afghanistan starting next year to train and support Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban and its allied insurgent groups. The parliamentary approval came as U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly has authorized American troops to engage in combat missions and provide air support to Afghan forces when needed.
Across the border, Pakistan's army has been conducting counter-militancy operations since June and says it has eliminated militant sanctuaries from most parts of North Waziristan, which borders Paktika province. The offensive is said to have driven many fighters across the border into Afghanistan.
Pakistan condemned Sunday’s suicide bombing in Paktika. A foreign ministry statement said that “no cause justifies such acts of terrorism and taking of innocent lives.”