NADAHAN VILLAGE, Afghanistan | A suicide bomb ripped through a wedding party for a family with ties to police in the Taliban’s heartland in Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more, officials said Thursday.
The Taliban denied carrying out the attack, but strong suspicion fell on the insurgent group because it previously attacked allies of the government or Afghan security forces.
The blast hit in an area that is largely considered a Taliban haven, and village residents said they thought they were attacked in an air bombardment. Mohammad Rassool, a cousin of the groom, said helicopters were circling above the compound before the explosion.
NATO said no service members from the alliance were involved or operating in the area at the time of the explosion. U.S. military spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the deaths were not the result of an airstrike.
British Prime Minister David Cameron - making his first visit to Afghanistan since being elected last month - joined President Hamid Karzai in condemning the attack. The two talked in Kabul on Wednesday about the progress of the nearly 9-year-old war.
Mr. Cameron, whose nation is the second-largest contributor of NATO forces in Afghanistan, with about 10,000 troops, said 2010 is “the vital year” for showing that the U.S.-led counterinsurgency is working.
“This is the year when we have to make progress - progress for the sake of the Afghan people, but progress also on behalf of people back at home who want this to work,” Mr. Cameron told a joint news conference with Mr. Karzai.
Mr. Cameron, whose coalition government is considered less invested in the war than its Labor predecessor, ruled out sending more British forces, saying, “The issue of more troops is not remotely on the U.K. agenda.”
Bloodshed has spiked in recent weeks, and the latest NATO death - an American killed Thursday by a roadside bomb, the U.S. military said - was the 30th this month for the alliance and the 20th for the United States, according to a count by the Associated Press.
The bomb blast late Wednesday almost completely flattened the outer wall of a compound in the Arghandab district of Kandahar, where male wedding guests had gathered for a meal. The windows and walls of the mud-brick dwellings were shattered and cracked. Female guests at the party were in another compound that was not hit by the explosion, witnesses said.
Limbs and pieces of flesh still littered the bombing site at Nadahan village in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province about midday Thursday, when an Associated Press reporter visited. Villagers said no security forces had arrived to secure the area or start an investigation.