KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber attacked a health clinic in eastern Afghanistan as women and children lined up for maternity care and vaccinations, killing at least 35 people in one of the deadliest attacks against civilians this year.
The sport utility vehicle smashed through a wall at the Akbarkhail Public Medical Center on Saturday before anyone could shoot the driver or blow out the tires, local officials said. The force of the blast caused the building to collapse.
Survivors frantically dug through the rubble with shovels and bare hands. At least 53 other people were wounded, provincial public health director Dr. Mohammad Zaref Nayebkhail said.
"They were offering important services for the people. We had very good services and lots of patients. There were only 10 beds but lots of other services in that center. It's why the casualties were so high," he said.
Wary of being blamed for civilian casualties, the Taliban denied it was behind the bombing in Azra district in Logar province. Violence has been on the rise since the Islamic movement launched its spring offensive and promised retaliation for the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
"This attack was not done by our fighters," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Nayebkhail said an Afghan army helicopter was dispatched to the area to deliver medical supplies and to ferry survivors to other hospitals. He said the clinic had recently been expanded to meet the health needs of the far-flung district's population in the mountainous area.
The Taliban claims it does not target civilians, but the movement is fractured and Saturday's attacks shared characteristics of recent violence.
Saturday's attack was the deadliest since February, when three men shot to death 38 people at a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the victims deserved their fates because some worked for the Western-backed Afghan government, which they perceive as illegitimate.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in February in the northern province of Kunduz which killed 31 people as they waited for government identification cards.
A recent U.N. report found that May was the deadliest month for civilians since it began keeping track in 2007, and it said insurgents were to blame for 82 percent of the 368 deaths recorded.
Late Friday, another blast — this one caused by a bicycle rigged with explosives — ripped through a bazaar in the Khanabad district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people, including a police officer, and wounding 24, according to an Interior Ministry statement.
The bombings raised concerns about the readiness of Afghans to take over their own security as the U.S. and other NATO nations begin to withdraw forces. President Barack Obama's announced Wednesday that he plans to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. NATO officials insist the Afghan government will be prepared for full sovereignty by 2014.
On Sunday, NATO said that insurgents had killed two service members in southern Afghanistan and two more in western Afghanistan. At least 52 NATO deaths have taken place in June and more than 200 this year.