Afghanistan: Explosion near police checkpoint and bank

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A suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a police checkpoint and a bank in southern Afghanistan yesterday in one of two attacks in the heartland of the insurgency which killed 18 people ­within 24 hours.

Separately, a Nato service member was killed by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, according to a military ­statement.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

However, Afghan president Hamid Karzai blamed the bombings on the Taleban.

Karzai said the militants should stop taking orders from foreigners – a veiled reference to Pakistan, whose intelligence services have been accused of working in concert with the Afghan Taleban.

The president said the ­security transition was nearly complete and claimed the ­militants were desperate to ­derail it.

“Taleban leaders and commanders must understand that with such crimes they will achieve nothing, but only be hated and disgust the people and God,” Karzai said.

“They must be accountable for the Muslim nation of ­Afghanistan,” he added.

Militants have escalated their activity as United States-led forces reduce their presence after a decade in the country and are in the final phase of handing over responsibility for security to Afghan government troops.

Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, initially said the suicide bomber was in a car that was being searched by police, but later said fresh information indicated the bomber had been on foot.

Along with the branch building of the New Kabul Bank, several small shops and ­vehicles were damaged. ­Witness Shah Wali had just stepped out of a taxi on his way to the bank when the attack occurred.

“I saw a man and a vehicle on the road, and while I was fixing my shoelaces I heard a loud explosion. I don’t know if it was the vehicle which exploded or the man,” Wali said.

Faisal said at least six people died – four of them civilians, one police officer and one private security guard. Another 24 people were wounded, most of them civilians.

Taleban spokesmen did not respond to first requests for comment. The militant group is especially strong in southern Afghanistan, which is dominated by the ethnic Pashtun community whose members form the bulk of the insurgency against Nato and the Karzai government.

Another 12 people were killed in an ambush involving a roadside bomb in Sangin ­district in Helmand province, also in the south, on Friday evening, said Omer Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Sangin is the scene of an ongoing operation by ­Afghan forces against the Taleban.

Zwak said 11 men and one woman died in the attack, and that the vehicle was also hit by several rounds of gunfire. Such attacks typically target security forces, but, in this case, “the victims are all civilians and had no link with the government,” Zwak said.

Afghan and coalition officials have warned that the Taleban would intensify the tempo of its attacks following the Muslim holy month of ­Ramadan, as they try to take advantage of the two or three months left of good weather before the harsh Afghan ­winter sets in. The traditional fighting period lasts from March until the start of ­November.

The Nato service member died in “a direct fire attack by enemy forces in eastern Afghanistan” yesterday, said a statement from the military alliance. It did not give any further details on the person killed, though most of the troops operating there are Americans.

There are currently about 100,000 troops from 48 countries in Afghanistan with the US-led International Security Assistance Force, 60,000 of them American. By the end of this year, that will have halved, and all foreign combat troops are expected to withdraw by the end of the year.

Afghan security forces now number about 352,000.