Suicide bombing kills 20 in southern Afghanistan
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A deadly blast in a crowded market in southern Afghanistan claimed twenty lives and left another thirteen wounded. The attack was the worst in over four months.
AFP - A suicide bomber targeted a crowded market in a restive district of southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing up to 20 civilians in the deadliest attack in four months.
The bombing in the Dihrawud district of Uruzgan province comes as attacks by the hardline Taliban militia escalate, with violence spreading to regions that have so far been relatively peaceful.
"This was a suicide bomber on foot who detonated himself at the gate of a money-exchange market," said Afghan army General Abdul Hameed, commander of national forces in Uruzgan.
"Up to now, 20 civilians have been killed and 13 wounded."
Provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat had earlier said 15 civilians were killed.
In early September, 22 people were killed by a suicide bomber outside a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, and at least 43 died in an attack in Kandahar in August, days after the fraud-tainted presidential election that returned Hamid Karzai to power.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the latest attack was near Forward Operating Base Hadrian, and that its troops had helped evacuate the dead and treat the injured.
"Initial reports indicate at least 20 Afghan civilians have been killed and 13 wounded in the blast," it said in a statement, adding a bomb disposal team rushed to the scene and had recovered a large amount of opium.
Karzai's office issued a statement condemning the "brutal attack".
"The enemies of Afghanistan carried out a terrorist attack among residents of Dihrawud while they were going about their daily business, leaving many families bereft."
"Their act proves their ignorance of the sacred religion of Islam and their hostility towards the Afghan people," Karzai said in the statement.
UN figures published on Wednesday showed that more than 2,400 civilians were killed in 2009, making it the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since the 2001 US-led invasion.
In another attack, in the neighbouring province of Helmand, one of the most violent regions in the country, a police officer was killed and five others were injured, NATO and Afghan authorities said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but both attacks bore the hallmarks of the Taliban, who are waging an intensifying insurgency to overthrow Karzai's Western-backed government.
In the Helmand attack, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car, killing one police officer and injuring five others including four police officers and a civilian, NATO and Afghan officials said.
"According to initial reports one Afghan police officer has been killed and four wounded in a suicide-vehicle IED strike in Musa Qala," ISAF said.
The statement was referring to improvised explosive devises, crude bombs that have become the pivot of the Taliban arsenal and are now responsible for up to 90 percent of foreign troops deaths, military intelligence officials say.
The district chief of Musa Qala, Abdul Salem, confirmed the attack.
Afghan civilians caught in the cross-fire between insurgents and Afghan and Western troops bear the brunt of the violence, now in its ninth year.
The United Nations released a report on Wednesday that found civilian casualties rose 14 percent in 2009 over the year before.
It said that 2,412 civilians were killed in the war in 2009, making it the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime from power in 2001.
It said 67 percent of the deaths were caused by Taliban attacks, while international troops and Afghan security forces were responsible for 25 percent.
There are 113,000 international troops in Afghanistan fighting the insurgency under US and NATO command, a figure set to rise to 150,000 by August.
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