Bomb in southern Afghan city kills at least 5


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a police checkpoint and a bank in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least five people, officials said. Most of the victims were civilians, and the bank building was badly damaged.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Saturday morning's attack, but Taliban fighters have escalated their activity as U.S.-led foreign forces reduce their presence in the country, having handed over primary responsibility for security to Afghan troops.

Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor, initially said the attacker was in a car that was being searched by police, but later said new information indicated the bomber had been on foot. Along with the branch building of New Kabul Bank, several small shops and vehicles were damaged.

Dr. Mohammad Wali of Kandahar Hospital said at least five bodies were brought in, while 25 people were being treated for wounds, but he expected the casualty figures to rise.

Taliban spokesmen did not immediately respond to 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 in the country.

On Friday, a suicide bomber attacked people leaving a memorial service at a mosque in northern Afghanistan, killing a district chief, his apparent target, and seven others, police said. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack either, but the Taliban typically don't issue such claims for attacks involving mosques.

Afghan and coalition officials have warned that the Taliban would intensify the tempo of their 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 end of October.

There are currently about 100,000 troops from 48 countries in Afghanistan with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, 60,000 of them American. By the end of this year, the NATO force will be halved, and all foreign combat troops are expected to be gone by the end of next year.

Because of the drawdown, much is riding on the abilities of the fledging Afghan security forces, which now number about 352,000.