GHAZNI - A roadside bomb blast on Sunday killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women, as they were heading to a wedding party in central Afghanistan, provincial officials said.
"A roadside bomb planted by the enemies of Afghanistan in Andar district of Ghazni province hit a civilian vehicle around 4:30pm," Mosa Khan Akbarzada, Ghazni provincial governor, told AFP. "Unfortunately, we have 14 women, three men, and a child onboard martyred in this tragic incident," Akbarzada said.
Deputy provincial police chief Asadullah Insafi confirmed the attack and gave a similar account. He also said five women had been taken to hospital.
Roadside bombs have in the past been planted by Taliban militants to target Afghan security forces and NATO-led US troops. Often they miss the targets, and civilians pay the price.
"They were going to attend a wedding party when their minibus was hit by a roadside bomb... which killed 18 mostly females, including children," said the governor's spokesman, Shafiq Nang Safai. The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility, although it usually denies having a hand in attacks that kill civilians. The local government said, however, it believed the insurgency was to blame. Improvised explosive devices, like the latest bomb that struck the wedding party, are the single biggest killer in the Afghan conflict, causing over a third of civilian casualties in the first six months of the year, according to a UN report.
Although roadside bombs kill civilians almost daily in Afghanistan, Sunday's death toll was unusually high. Ghazni is a volatile province in central Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, an Afghan soldier shot and injured two NATO coalition troops before being killed in a dispute at a flagship officer-training academy near Kabul that only opened a week ago, officials said Sunday.
NATO officials confirmed the shooting at the British-run Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which has been set up to produce a new generation of professional military leaders as the Afghan army takes on the Taliban.
"There was an argument between two soldiers that led to violence and each of them opened fire," Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, told AFP.
The Afghan soldier was killed and two international soldiers received minor injuries in the shooting on Saturday.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force gave no further details of the attack, but the injured men were reported to be from Australia and New Zealand.
The academy welcomed its first batch of recruits on October 19 and is due to be formally opened at a ceremony on Monday.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that none of the cadets were involved in the shooting.
"One of our instructors at the Afghan army officer academy was doing a task in the adjacent Afghan unit," New Zealand Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"He was escorted by two Australian force protection people, as they were coming back from that meeting, without notice an Afghani soldier, a single Afghani soldier, shot at them."
Overseen by British mentors, the academy is loosely modelled on Sandhurst, the renowned British officer training school.
At a media opening day on Wednesday, the first intake of cadets was put through their paces on the parade ground, as trainers said the 42-week course would transform men into officers who would one day lead the Afghan army.
The Afghan military has been built from scratch since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and it has struggled with high casualty rates, "insider attack" killings, mass desertions and equipment shortages.
Attacks in which Afghan forces turn their guns on their international partners have killed scores of NATO-led troops, breeding mistrust and undermining efforts to train local forces before NATO combat troops withdraw next year.