KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 17 people, including a police commander, inside a public bathhouse in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar on Friday in the country’s worst attack in more than five months.
The bombing, which officials said wounded 21 people, was the bloodiest attack since July and comes after the end of the deadliest year in an increasingly unpopular war that has now dragged on for more than nine years.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said three of its troops were killed in two separate attacks on Friday in the east and south of the country.
Zalmai Ayoubi, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province, said the target of the bathhouse raid, which took place in the town of Spin Boldak on the Pakistan border, was the border police commander.
“This brutal and inhumane act was the work of the enemies of Islam and humanity,” he said, adding that all the other casualties were civilians.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location that his hardline Islamist group had carried out the attack.
President Hamid Karzai issued a statement condemning the attack as “un-Islamic.”
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since late 2001 when U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.
Last year, a record 711 foreign troops were killed, according to monitoring website www.iCasualties.com, up from 521 in 2009.
Afghan security forces have been hit even harder than foreign troops. A total of 1,292 Afghan police and 821 Afghan soldiers were killed in 2010, according to the Afghan government.
Ordinary Afghans, however, have borne the brunt of the fighting as they become caught up in the crossfire. The United Nations has said 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 wounded in the first ten months of last year, a 20 percent increase on 2009.
More than three-quarters of civilians killed or wounded were as a result of insurgent attacks, the United Nations said in a quarterly report last month, which the Taliban rejected as “fabricated.”
The Afghan government has said 5,225 insurgents were killed last year.
NO WINTER LULL
Friday’s raid was the deadliest single insurgent attack since July 28 when at least 25 people were killed and 20 wounded by a roadside bomb in western Afghanistan.
The latest attack will also help to dispel a belief that winter brings a lull in violence. While fighting does tend to peak during the summer, military commanders now speak less of fighting “seasons” and say they aim to pressure militants throughout the year.
Insurgents have also vowed to continue fighting, and foreign military officials acknowledge militant attacks are up compared to a year ago.
A total of 41 foreign troops were killed last December, more than in March or in April, which are warmer months.
ISAF said three of its troops were killed on Friday in two separate bomb attacks. One was killed in the south and two in the east, it said, without giving further details. The deaths bring to nine the number of foreign troops to die in 2011.
A review by U.S. President Barack Obama last month found U.S. and NATO forces were making headway against the Taliban and al Qaeda, but serious challenges remained. It said the Taliban’s momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.
On Thursday, the Pentagon said it would temporarily send 1,400 more Marines to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to hold on to those fragile security gains.
The review also said the United States was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops -- now numbering about 97,000 in a total foreign force of some 150,000 -- in July. However, the pace and scope of that drawdown remains unclear.
Additional reporting and writing by Jonathon Burch in Kabul; Editing by Nick Macfie
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