KABUL — The Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in eastern Paktika province Sunday night that killed at least 24 people. The attack appeared intended to show the insurgent group’s strength as the springtime fighting season begins.
The Taliban took responsibility a day earlier for kidnapping 50 men in Kunar province, also in the east.
NATO commanders say they anticipate the Taliban will step up high-profile attacks this spring to show that an aggressive drive by foreign troops over the winter to clear insurgent strongholds didn’t weaken the group.
Three suicide bombers slammed a truck packed with explosives into a building that housed a construction company Sunday about 8 p.m. in the Barmal district of Paktika province, said Mokhlis Afghan, a spokesman for the governor.
The bombing, which occurred as the workers were having dinner, wounded at least 59 people, the spokesman said.
A statement posted on the Taliban’s Web site said the attack targeted a “base of joint forces,” suggesting the insurgents might have mistaken the compound for a military installation.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying in a statement that it would not “weaken our commitment to build Afghanistan.”
Construction workers have been targeted in previous attacks, apparently because insurgent leaders see them as agents of the West. The international community funds many construction projects here.
NATO officials said in a statement that the apparent intended target of the attack was a religious school. It was unclear which version was accurate.
“The loss of innocent civilian life in this hateful, un-Islamic insurgent attack is heart-wrenching,” U.S. Rear Adm. Vic Beck, a NATO spokesman, said in a statement.
The attack came hours after the Taliban kidnapped 50 men in the Kandi district of Kunar province. The Taliban said the men were police officers, although local officials described them as recruits.
The attacks occurred days after Karzai announced that Afghan authorities will start taking the lead for security in a few districts and cities starting in July, when U.S. troops are to start drawing down.
The Taliban has mocked the government’s readiness, calling it a “puppet” state run by the United States and its allies.
Hamdard is a special correspondent.