KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a joint Afghan-U.S. base in the country’s east on Wednesday, wounding at least 45 Afghan soldiers, local officials said.
The Taliban took responsibility for the car bomb attack in the Zurmat district of Paktia province, saying they had also despatched a group of fighters in suicide vests who managed to enter the base.
A spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said insurgents fired at the base after the explosion. There were no NATO casualties, she added.
Paktia, a small province about 100 km (62 miles) south of the capital Kabul, has been beset by increasing violence over the past two years.
“The bomber detonated explosives right in front of a joint base shared by the Afghan army and foreign forces, wounding 45 soldiers,” the deputy governor for Paktia, Gul Rahman Mangal, told Reuters.
Seven civilians were among the wounded, hospital officials in Zurmat added.
Violence has been increasing across the country as the deadline of end-2014 looms for most foreign combat troops to leave Afghanistan, leaving the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces in control.
Heavy casualty rates amongst Afghan security forces - NATO says 243 Afghan soldiers and 292 policemen were killed or wounded in an average month this year - have raised concerns that their ability to tackle insurgents may be dwindling along with morale.
A senior government negotiator on Saturday denied that plans by Kabul to seek peace talks with the Taliban were in deadlock, saying progress was under way.
Reporting by Elyas Wahdat in KHOST and Miriam Arghandiwal and Mirwais Harooni in KABUL, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman