Taliban bomb kills Afghan police chief, 16 civilians in Kandahar bathhouse

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, which came only a day after the US announced it was sending more troops to Afghanistan.

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A suicide bomber in a southern Afghanistan bathhouse killed at least 17 and wounded 23 on Friday, while roadside bombs killed three NATO troops. The attacks come just a day after reports that the US will send an additional 1,400 marines to the country, largely to its south, in anticipation of an uptick in fighting as snow melts and militants emerge from winter hideouts.

The bathhouse bombing seemed to target an Afghan police commander who was known to stop there before Friday prayers in the southern town of Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan (see map here), an Afghan intelligence source told the BBC. Spin Boldak is only 70 miles from the provincial capital of Kandahar, a stronghold for the Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, The New York Times reports

“This brutal and inhumane act was the work of the enemies of Islam and humanity,” said Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, according to Reuters. He added that the other casualties were all civilians.

NATO also announced Friday that three of its service members were killed in roadside bombings on Friday, The Associated Press reports. The attacks in the nine-year war come on the heels of the conflict’s most lethal year, Reuters notes:

Last year, a record 711 foreign troops were killed, according to monitoring website www.iCasualties.com, compared to 521 for 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.

Afghan civilians 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 between January and October last year, a 20 percent increase on 2009.

An expectation of renewed resistance in Afghanistan’s south prompted US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to send 1,400 more marines there this month, adding to the 140,000 US-led troops already in the country. The US is under pressure to show security gains in the country before a promised troop drawdown, slated to begin in July. The US has said it will transfer responsibility for the country’s security to Afghan forces by 2014.

While “pessimism abounds” about NATO accomplishments in the country, Paul D. Miller, a former director for Afghanistan in the US National Security Council under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, argues in Foreign Affairs that critics should not overestimate the insurgency.

“The stabilization and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan has gone better than is widely believed. The pessimists fail to understand how badly the Afghan state had failed in 2001 and thus are blind to how much it has improved in many areas – particularly in economic and political reconstruction. The pessimists are right to be worried about the rise of the Taliban insurgency and the weak rule of law, but they also tend to overstate the competence and scale of the insurgency,” he writes.

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