KHOST   -  An explosion rocked a mosque on an Afghan army base during Friday prayers, killing at least 27 soldiers, officials said, in the latest violence to hit the war-torn country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which follows a wave of deadly attacks across Afghanistan in recent weeks as militants step up assaults amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year conflict. The explosion ripped through the mosque in the country’s volatile eastern Khost province, killing 27 soldiers and wounding 57, the military said.

The blast may have been set off by a suicide bomber or a remotely detonated bomb but nothing was officially confirmed and details were sketchy.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack in a statement as “anti-Islamic and inhumane.”

He also wanted to know how the army’s security was breached, demanding a swift investigation and the officials responsible held accountable.

“There were soldiers lying everywhere and the smoke was so thick, it was difficult to see,” said Abdullah, a spokesman at the base. Like most Afghans, he uses only one name.  The dead and wounded were rushed to a clinic within the army base, while the more seriously wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. Sakhi Sardar, head of the hospital in Khost said most of the wounded were being treated for devastating shrapnel wounds.

Defence ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed would only confirm there had been casualties. Some of the wounded had been transported to a hospital in the provincial capital Khost while four military helicopters also had been dispatched to bring others to Kabul, Jawed said.

It is not clear how many worshippers were inside the mosque at the time of the explosion or the nature of the blast. The mosque could accommodate 500 people, brigade spokesman Abdullah told AFP. “I was entering the mosque when the blast happened,” said Abdullah.

It has been a bloody week for Afghanistan after at least 55 people were killed and 94 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a religious gathering in Kabul.

Friday’s explosion comes as Afghan security forces suffer record casualties, which experts warn have reached unsustainable levels as the Taliban maintain the upper hand in the war.

 

Since the start of 2015, when local forces took over from US-led NATO combat troops to secure the country, nearly 30,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed, President Ashraf Ghani revealed this month — a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged.

That is an average of around 20 soldiers killed per day. Casualty figures for Afghan forces have been kept under wraps since 2017 at the request of Kabul, but NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan recently told a US watchdog that this summer’s toll was worse than ever.