, KABUL, Jul 9 – An overturned truck rigged with explosives blew up near Kabul, killing 25 people including many school students in one of the deadliest blasts this year in war-torn Afghanistan, police said.
Loaded with firewood, the truck overturned overnight about 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the capital in Logar province and exploded as authorities were trying to remove the vehicle in the early morning, they said.
The attack comes as Western militaries boost their troop deployments to Afghanistan ahead of key presidential and provincial council elections scheduled for August 20.
"In the explosion today 21 civilians and four policemen have been martyred," provincial police chief Ghulam Mustafa Mohsini told AFP.
"The civilians include school students and male elders. Four others including three students and one civilian man have been wounded," he said.
The students were struck as they were going to area schools — the first educates pupils aged nine to 12 years old and the second students aged between 16 and 18, locals said.
Some of the children who died in the explosion were believed to be aged 10 to 12 years. Police said some bodies were burned beyond recognition.
The interior ministry in Kabul gave the same death toll.
"A total of 25 people have been killed and four are wounded including three children," ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.
"Police went in the morning to see and open the road. As police arrived at the scene the truck exploded and unfortunately killed 21 civilians and four policemen."
The blast created a large crater in the ground and caused widespread damage, he said.
It was not clear if the truck was headed to the capital to carry out an attack or had been intended to explode where it did, the official said.
"We don’t know at this stage. There was no driver in the morning with the truck. We are still investigating the issue," he said.
The governor of Mohammad Agha district, where the explosion took place, said 12 bodies were initially identified and that most of them were school students.
"We are still trying to recover bodies from under the debris of collapsed shops. There are more people dead," said the official, Abdul Hameed Hamid.
Hamid said it appeared the truck was deliberately overturned in time to explode as authorities arrived.
Three shops were totally destroyed and windows smashed up to one kilometre (half-mile) away from the explosion, he said.
The blast took place on a main road from southern and eastern Afghanistan that heads into the capital Kabul. The truck was heading towards Kabul, said provincial government spokesman Din Mohammad Darwish.
"It seems that the explosives were remotely detonated as a crowd gathered around the truck in the morning," he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Afghanistan has for years suffered a wave of bombings by Islamist insurgents, including those waged by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001 until they were ousted by a US-led invasion.
The rising violence prompted US President Barack Obama to pledge 21,000 more troops, most of whom are already in the country as part of a sweeping new strategy to try to stabilise the country ahead of the elections next month.
Nearly 4,000 newly deployed Marines last week launched a major operation in Taliban strongholds in the southern province of Helmand where thousands of British troops are also operating.
The commander of US Marines said Wednesday there was an urgent need for more Afghan security forces as well as civilian experts to back up the offensive.
"I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The fact of the matter is we don’t have enough Afghan forces, and I’d like more," Brigadier General Larry Nicholson told reporters.