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Taliban bomber kills 31 at Afghan office

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KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (AFP) – A Taliban suicide bomber struck an Afghan government office on Monday, killing 31 people and raising to more than 100 the death toll from a surge in high-profile bomb attacks.

A string of insurgent attacks has targeted civilians and government forces over the last three weeks, just a few months before limited withdrawals of US-led NATO forces are due to start in July.

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Monday’s attack took place as people queued outside a district office in Imam Sahib in the northern province of Kunduz to collect new identity cards and other paperwork.

Insurgents have made increasing inroads into the north, expanding from their traditional power bases in the south and east, along the Pakistan border, as they press a nine-year insurgency against the government and US-led troops.

District governor Mohammad Ayob Haqyar said a suicide attacker detonated his explosives in the waiting area.

“The number of people killed in the suicide blast rose to 31,” he said. “Some of the critically wounded also died in hospital. Thirty-nine people are wounded.”

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Officials locally and in Kabul said that all of the dead were thought to be civilians.

A local man, Mohammad Ismail, described the scene in the hospital where the wounded were being treated as chaotic.

“There are wounded and dead all over the floor in the hospital,” he told AFP. “There are bodies with their chopped-off hands or legs next to them in the hospital. It’s a disaster… you can hear screams everywhere.”

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed one of its “hero” members had carried out the attack, which he said targeted an army recruitment centre and killed 30 members of the security forces.

The insurgent militia, which has been fighting the Western-backed government since being toppled from power in the 2001 US-led invasion, routinely deny killing civilians in their attacks.

Kunduz, in particular, has been volatile in recent months. Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed a district governor and two others after walking into an office ostensibly to hand over a letter.

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In the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since last June, four suicide bombers killed 38 people on Saturday, apparently targeting police collecting their salaries at a bank in the eastern town of Jalalabad.

On Friday, another nine people died in a car bombing near a district police headquarters in the eastern city of Khost.

The previous week, 19 people including 15 police and an Afghan intelligence agent, died when suicide bombers armed with guns, grenades and car bombs targeted police in Afghanistan’s de facto southern capital, Kandahar.

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There have also been two attacks in Kabul in recent weeks — on January 28, when eight people were killed at a supermarket popular with Westerners, and on February 14, when two died at a shopping mall.

The Afghan police and army are due to take responsibility for security from 2014, allowing the bulk of international troops to withdraw.

There are currently around 140,000 international military personnel in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.

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Afghan officials have also accused NATO troops in recent days of causing mass civilian casualties in operations — a highly sensitive subject in the fight to win hearts and minds while defeating the Taliban.

On Monday, local officials accused NATO forces of killing a family of six in an air strike, a day after President Hamid Karzai said 50 innocent people had died in aerial attacks nearby over the course of five days.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

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New images from asteroid probe offer clues on planet formation

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Photographs snapped by a shoebox-sized probe that explored the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu have offered new clues about its composition, insights that will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system.

The German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) hitched a ride on Japan's Hayabusa2 spaceship, touching down on the 900-meter (3,000 feet) wide asteroid, whose orbit lies mostly between Earth and Mars, on October 3, 2018.

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The United States on Thursday sharpened its criticism of China's activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea, slamming an "escalation" in efforts to intimidate other claimants" such as Vietnam.

China redeployed a government-owned survey vessel -- with armed escorts -- into the waters off Vietnam earlier this month, the US said.

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Pentagon chief confirms death of Al-Qaeda’s Hamza bin Laden

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US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has confirmed the death of Hamza Bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

"That's my understanding," Esper said in an interview late Wednesday with Fox News, when asked if Hamza bin Laden was dead.

"I don't have the details on that. And if I did I'm not sure how much I could share with you," he added.

US media reported at the beginning of August that bin Laden was killed during the last two years in an operation that involved the United States, citing US intelligence officials.

But President Donald Trump and other senior officials have refused to confirm or deny it publicly.

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