Afghan commander among 23 dead in blast

A suicide bomber has killed at least 23 people including a prominent warlord-turned-politician at a wedding hall in northern Afghanistan.

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The attack has dealt a setback to efforts to unify the nation’s ethnic factions.

Ahmad Khan Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek who commanded forces fighting the Soviets in the 1980s and later became a member of parliament, was welcoming guests to his daughter’s wedding when the blast ripped through the building in Aybak, the capital of Samangan province.

Authorities said 23 people were killed and about 60, including government officials, were wounded in the attack. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying it was “carried out by the enemies of Afghanistan”. He ordered a team from Kabul to fly to the northern province to investigate the bombing.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. But in announcing their spring offensive on May 2, the Taliban said they would continue to target those who back the Karzai government and the US-led international military coalition.

Karzai needs the minority groups – loosely known as the Northern Alliance – to back his efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. But minorities already worry that Karzai, a Pashtun, will make too many concessions to their Taliban enemies to achieve a peace deal to end the war. Whatever support for peace talks that Karzai has won from minority groups is likely to erode if militants continue to pick off their leaders one by one.

It was the most recent in a string of deadly attacks over the past month around the country.

The violence threatens to undermine international hopes of an orderly handover to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Samangani became famous during Afghanistan’s fight against the Soviets, who left the country in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. He became a member of parliament last year and was considered a key leader in Samangan and northern Afghanistan. He was a former military commander under Northern Alliance general Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord. Samangan, a province with about 350,000 people, has in the past been politically split between ethnic Tajik and Uzbek leaders.

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