KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber targeted an Afghan protest rally Tuesday, killing about 20 civilians in the eastern province of Nangahar, officials said, in the latest wave of spiraling violence in Afghanistan.
The strike raised further questions about the ability of the government and efficiency of U.S.-led troops who have been stationed in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which were carried out by the al-Qaida terrorist network then based in the country.
About 60 other civilians were hurt in Tuesday’s strike, which occurred near a road outside Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangahar near the border with Pakistan.
“The protest was against a local commander,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for Nangahar’s government. “There were several hundred people. Initial reports show 19 were killed.”
But Ahmad Ali Hazrat, head of Nangahar’s provincial council, said 30 people were killed.
He also said the protesters continued to their rally even after the attack. Officials said people gathered to complain about a local police commander by blocking the main highway between Jalalabad and the Torkham crossing on the border with Pakistan.
“We are fed up with insecurity,” he said. “Attacks occur every day. And the government doesn’t pay attention.”
The attack came hours after several small explosions occurred near schools in various parts of Jalalabad, a city that has been the focus of deadly strikes by affiliates of the Islamic State in recent months. A 14-year-old student was killed and at least four other people were wounded in the first attack, officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for any of Tuesday’s bombings.
On Sunday, the Islamic State said one of its suicide bombers struck a convoy of gunmen who took to the streets in Kabul for hours to commemorate the death anniversary of legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud. The gunmen fired indiscriminately, mostly into the air, disrupting lives for tens of thousands of people during their tribute to Massoud. Seven people in the convoy were killed and more than 20 were wounded in the Islamic State attack, officials said. Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaida operatives posing as journalists on Sept. 9, 2001, in a resistance stronghold in northern Afghanistan.
The Islamic State also claimed to have been behind two separate but apparently coordinated attacks, in which more than 20 people, including two Afghan journalists, perished last week in a largely Shiite part of the capital.
The attacks by Islamic State sympathizers have created more concern about already poor security as the resurgent Taliban makes inroads in some areas of northern Afghanistan. The group had no influence in those areas even when it was in power from 1996 to 2001, when it was driven from power in Kabul by Afghan resistance forces and U.S. airstrikes.
More than 150 government security personnel have died in a series of attacks by Taliban militants in various northern areas since Sunday, according to local officials.
The Taliban advances and the surge in attacks by Islamic State supporters have also raised more skepticism about the government’s ability to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections scheduled for next month, followed by presidential vote in April.
In general, the violence has drawn relatively little attention in the West, in part because it hardly affects U.S. or NATO troops in Afghanistan.
But Afghans routinely ask why the United States, 17 years after it intervened in the country, has not managed to secure Afghanistan.
Washington Post writer Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.
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