ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - A suicide car bomber struck a convoy of government forces in eastern Afghanistan Saturday, killing at least 18 people and wounding six others.
Officials said the attack in the eastern city of Khost targeted a special unit of Afghan forces providing security for U.S. troops in the area.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into the convoy near the city’s busy bus station, mostly harming civilians.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the violence, asserted the security convoy was hit in an area where there were no civilians.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the attack left 22 “enemy forces” dead and many more wounded.
He explained that it took the Taliban several months to plot the attack to punish the special forces, accusing them of committing human rights abuses against Afghans at the behest of American CIA personnel in Khost.
The Afghan province borders Pakistan's volatile tribal areas and used to be a stronghold of the notorious Haqqani network, which is staging attacks alongside the Taliban against NATO and Afghan forces.
The deadly bombing took place on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, ignoring U.N. calls for both sides to cease hostilities to respect the religious occasion.
Taliban spokesman Mujahid has rejected as “ignorance of [Islamic] religion” calls for stopping “jihad” (fighting) in the holy month of fasting.
“Our fight is Jihad and obligatory worship, reward for every obligatory act of worship is multiplied x70 in Ramadan,” he said in a statement Saturday.
The spokesman went on to assert that the Taliban places “special attention” to protecting civilian lives while undertaking insurgent activities because hurting civilians “during Ramadan and otherwise is a crime.”
The Taliban has stepped up attacks on Afghan security forces and military installations around the country. The insurgents, in repeated attacks this week in the southern province of Kandahar alone, have killed more than 60 soldiers and wounded dozens more.
The deadliest attack on a military base in Afghanistan took place near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in April in which more than 150 security forces were killed, though independent sources gave a much higher death toll.