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Afghanistan hospital attack deaths rise to 39, with 140 wounded

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By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – The death toll in a Taliban truck bombing that destroyed a hospital in southern Afghanistan has risen to 39, nearly double the previous figure, with 140 wounded, a spokesman for the provincial governor said on Friday.

“Only two of those killed were security force members, and the rest of them are civilians, including women, children, patients and visitors,” spokesman Gul Islam Syaal said of Thursday’s attack.

The Taliban said the target of the attack in Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, was a nearby building housing the government’s intelligence department.

The Islamist militants have been carrying out nearly daily attacks since the collapse of peace talks with the United States this month, in the run-up to elections on Sept. 28.

Casualties since the talks fell apart less than two weeks ago are now at least 331, including 96 killed.

The Taliban has said its fighters will step up their campaign against the Afghan government and foreign forces to dissuade people from voting.

President Ashraf Ghani on Friday promised measures to prevent civilian casualties in the war against militants, a day after at least 30 civilians were killed in a U.S. drone strike in eastern Nangarhar province.

Ghani said he had introduced “checks and balances” to stop night raids and attacks leading to the loss of innocent lives.

He was speaking at an election rally in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.

Afghan forces, often backed by the U.S. military, have intensified ground and air operations against Islamist groups to protect civilians, government buildings, polling stations and a large expatriate population.

But some of their operations have killed and injured civilians, angering locals who have staged protests against the tactical blunders committed by the foreign and Afghan forces.

Ghani said he has ordered investigations into recent incidents in which the Afghan forces accidentally targeted civilians. He did not comment directly on the U.S. drone strike.

U.S. security officials in Afghanistan said the drone strike was intended to destroy a hideout used by Islamic State fighters.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Giles Elgood)

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