45 Killed in Suicide Attack at Afghanistan Volleyball Game, Just Days After Decision to Extend US Troops' Stay

Afghan policemen secure the area outside Cure Hospital after three foreigners were killed in Kabul April 24, 2014.
Afghan policemen secure the area outside Cure Hospital after three foreigners were killed in Kabul April 24, 2014. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)

At least 45 people have been killed in a major suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan, where a bomber detonated his explosive vest in a crowd of spectators during a volleyball game on Sunday. The attack occurred days after President Barack Obama extended the combat role of American soldiers in Afghanistan into 2015.

"It is an attack on sport itself and on the positive values it can bring to help build strong communities and foster peace and reconciliation around the world," International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in a statement, Reuters reported.

The Paktika province governor's office affirmed that most of the casualties were civilians who had come to watch a tournament final, while another 50 people were wounded in the attack.

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No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, though several sources have noted that the attack occurred days after Obama announced that 9,800 American combat troops will stay in the country at least for another year.

The New York Times reported on Friday that the White House administration was changing the plan that had originally set to keep the troops in Afghanistan only to help train local forces in their fight against Taliban jihadists.

A senior administration official insisted, however, that despite the extension of the combat role, offensive missions in Afghanistan will still be limited.

"We will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban," the official said. "To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to Al Qaeda, however, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe."

The U.S. and its international allies have been fighting jihadist presence in Afghanistan as part of the anti-terror Operation Enduring Freedom mission since 2001.

Internal debates have arisen, however, within the Obama administration about whether to focus on fulfilling Obama's promise to the American people to pull all combat troops from the Asian nation, or to ensure that the mission to drive out remnants of Al Qaida is fulfilled.

The Associated Press noted that Sunday's attack, the deadliest so far of 2014, was carried out in Paktika near the border with Pakistan, where the Taliban and other jihadist groups are waging a war against the U.S.-allied central government. The Haqqani militant group, which is active in the region, has been known to send young men to carry out suicide attacks on a regular basis.

Another major bomb attack in Paktika's Urgun district earlier this year killed 43 people, only a couple fewer than the current death toll from the volleyball game blast.

President Ashraf Ghani's administration has faced escalating violence this year as he took charge of the country, partly because of a security agreement he signed with the U.S.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, the first deputy president, has welcomed Obama's decision to extend the stay of American combat troops.

"The United States knows that the Afghan army needs more equipment, that the army are being killed in Taliban attacks," Dostum said Sunday.

Ghani has also signed another agreement with NATO, which will allow a total of 12,000 international troops to stay in Afghanistan for another year.

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