12 Police, Child Killed in Southern Afghanistan Suicide Blast

Posted July 31st, 2011 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
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A suicide car bombing in southern Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province has killed 12 police officers and a child, the first such major attack in an area where Afghan forces recently took over full security responsibility from NATO-led troops.

A government spokesman in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, said Sunday's blast occurred outside the city's heavily guarded police headquarters. He said three civilians were among the dozen people wounded.

Resurgent Taliban militants, fighting to drive out foreign forces from Afghanistan and overthrow President Hamid Karzai's government, have claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security for Lashkar Gah was handed over to Afghan troops less than two weeks ago, part of the first stage of a plan to have all of Afghanistan under the oversight of Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

Sunday's assault is the latest in a string of regional attacks that have included the assassination of numerous high-profile officials, such as Mr. Karzai's half-brother and the mayor of neighboring Kandahar province.

The blast comes as the top U.S. military officer meets with commanders and troops in southern Afghanistan on the second day of an unannounced visit.

Admiral Mike Mullen said Sunday the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps General John Allen, is working on plans for the initial withdrawal of 10,000 American troops from the country by the end of the year. He said General Allen has until mid-October to submit his plan.

Military officials say the pullout may hinge on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday. Mullen says Taliban leaders are reportedly pushing for an increase in violence through Ramadan and may leave their fighters in the country while top commanders spend at least part of the holy month in neighboring Pakistan.

President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 23,000 U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan by the end of next summer. Mullen noted that Afghan troops are due to increase in size over the timeline of the American withdrawals. There are currently nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, NATO says one of its service members was killed Sunday in a bomb blast in the east.