Nine people were killed and eighteen injured in two separate suicide attacks in Afghanistan on Monday, authorities said, days after a fresh round of international talks aimed at reviving dialogue with the Islamist group.
The militant group is stepping up attacks nationwide in the 15th year of its insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The carnage began Monday morning when a suicide bomber threw himself against a bus carrying Afghan troops in the northern province of Balkh, killing three soldiers and wounding eight, the defence ministry said.
A spokesman for the provincial governor, Munir Ahmad Farhad, said the bomber ran towards the bus as it slowed down for a speed bump in Dehdadi, a district near the provincial capital Mazar-i-Sharif.
On Monday afternoon another suicide attacker blew himself up among a crowd of people queueing outside a bakery in Yahyakhail, a remote district in the volatile southeastern province of Paktika on the border with Pakistan. The attack killed six civilians and wounded 10.
"We don’t know what the target of the attacker was but all the casualties are civilians," Yahyakhail district governor Musa Jan Kharoti told AFP.
The account was confirmed by the provincial deputy governor Attaullah Fazly.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Paktika. The Taliban, whose hardline regime was toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack on the army bus.
The group have stepped up their campaign against government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation.
Afghan troops and police have suffered record casualties since NATO ended its combat mission in December 2014, leaving them to battle the resurgent Taliban largely on their own.
At least twenty Afghan policemen were killed on February 1 when a suicide bomber struck outside their base in the capital Kabul.
With neither side in the conflict seemingly able to accomplish a decisive victory, Kabul, regional powers and the United States have pinned their hopes on a peace settlement.
On Saturday representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US announced that direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban were expected to take place by the end of the month, indicating the insurgent group were willing to return to negotiations six months after an earlier round of dialogue fell apart.
Pakistan backed the Islamist group during their 1996-2001 rule and is accused of continuing to shelter its leaders in exile. Its role is seen as key in persuading the Taliban to return to talks.