Afghan suicide blasts kill dozen
A dozen people, most of them policemen, died in two Taliban-style suicide attacks in southern Afghanistan on Monday, underlining the scale of the task facing international forces there.
The attacks followed a deadly weekend in which nine Western soldiers were killed along with several civilians and militants in Afghanistan's growing Taliban-led insurgency.
The most deadly suicide attack on Monday was outside the provincial police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the turbulent, opium-producing province of Helmand, with the attacker disguised as a policeman in uniform.
"Eleven people, nine of them policemen and two of them civilians, were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Lashkar Gah," the interior ministry said in a statement.
Twenty-eight others, also mostly policemen, were wounded, the statement said. The provincial health department gave a similar toll.
About 17,000 US troops are expected to start deploying to the south in the coming months to reinforce troops under pressure in the area, where several districts have fallen under control of insurgents allied with drug lords.
The deputy provincial police chief, who is named only Kamalludin, was at the scene when the bomb exploded but survived unharmed.
"I had just arrived with a five-vehicle police convoy. A man wearing police uniform walked towards us and exploded. Two of my bodyguards were also killed," he said.
A policeman at the scene said the bomber had walked towards the just-parked convoy and detonated his explosives. "There is blood and human flesh all over where I'm standing right now," he added on condition of anonymity.
Helmand is one of the most intense battlefields in the international fight against the extremist Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, and their allies in the Al-Qaeda network.
Two British soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in Helmand on Sunday.
Monday's other suicide attack was at the police headquarters in the turbulent Delaram district of southwestern Farah province, police said.
A suicide bomber killed a policeman outside the building with a hand grenade then grabbed the dead man's weapon and ran into the compound, said the police spokesman for western Afghanistan, Abdul Rauf Ahmadi.
Policemen fired at the attacker and bombs strapped to his body exploded, he said. Two shopkeepers were wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suicide attacks have been trademarks of the Taliban in the years following the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the repressive Islamist movement from government.
The Taliban on Sunday claimed a blast that killed four US soldiers in the eastern province of Nangarhar hours before the Britons were killed in the south. Three other foreign troops died on Saturday.
The spike in violence comes amid growing international alarm about how to counter the extremist unrest in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.
The 17,000 extra US troops will complement nearly 75,000 mostly Western soldiers already in Afghanistan.
But with attacks at a record high last year, there has been increasing talk of finding a non-military exit to the spiralling violence, with Washington endorsing Kabul's push for peace talks with "moderate" Taliban.
The insurgents insist, however, that they will only enter negotiations after the departure of the foreign troops on which the fragile Western-backed government relies.