The ambush in Almar district of Faryab province, bordering Turkmenistan, highlights the heavy toll of such attacks on civilians after 13 years of war. No group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, which comes just before another round of peace negotiations between the government and Taliban militants are due to start.

"This morning a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in a market in Almar," Faryab Governor Abdul Sattar Barez told reporters.

"Our information shows at least 15 people were killed in the attack, including women and children and at least one Afghan army soldier," he said, adding that around 38 others were wounded.

Almar district chief Saleh Mohammad Saleh confirmed the death toll, adding that some of the wounded were in a critical condition.

"We had received intelligence report that a suicide attacker has entered the market in Almar, so we set up a police check point to search for him," local police commander Saif, who goes by one name, told reporters.    

"We were looking for him when he blew himself up near an armoured military vehicle," Saif said, adding that the attacker was aged between 20 and 25.

Taliban insurgents, who launched their annual summer offensive in late April, have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets despite official efforts to jumpstart peace talks.

Civilians often fall victim to such attacks, with almost 1,000 Afghan civilians killed during the first four months of the year, according to the UN mission in Afghanistan.

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