NADAHAN VILLAGE, Afghanistan - Body parts in trees. Mud walls flattened. Corpses riddled with ball bearings.
NATO and the Afghan government blamed a Taliban suicide bomber Thursday for the grisly scene at a wedding party where at least 40 people were killed by an intense explosion. But the Taliban claimed they played no role in the blast in the Arghandab district, an insurgent stronghold near the southern city of Kandahar.
Stunned survivors said they suspected a NATO airstrike was responsible, a view that reflects either their deep suspicion of the U.S.-led coalition or fear of Taliban retribution.
Regardless of responsibility, Wednesday night's attack is likely to heighten public concern about a planned NATO military operation in the Kandahar area, the birthplace of the Taliban considered by U.S. commanders as the key to turning back the insurgents.
The top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, acknowledged yesterday that the Kandahar operation will take longer than planned because local Afghans do not yet support it.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said a suicide bomber entered a rural home where men were celebrating a wedding. The groom was among the 74 wounded. Women guests were in a separate house with the bride.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied they carried out the attack, in a district where the Taliban remain entrenched. Nevertheless, suspicion fell on them because the family included a number of Afghan policemen, who are often targeted by the Taliban.
Kandahar provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said doctors had recovered ball bearings from the bodies of the dead. Militants often pack ball bearings and other metal into suicide vests to kill more victims.