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Taliban kills 13 Afghan soldiers, police

- Associated Press - Sunday, December 19, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban fighters struck at Afghan security forces Sunday, storming an army recruiting center in the north that sparked a daylong gunbattle, and ambushing a bus carrying army officers in the capital — the first major attack in Kabul in months.

At least 13 Afghan security forces were killed in the two attacks, with the firefight at the recruiting center in the northern province of Kunduz ending only after the last remaining militant detonated his suicide vest, local police officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both operations.

Separately, the head of the violence-wracked Chahar Dara district of Kunduz survived an ambush when a powerful roadside bomb detonated as he passed by in a police vehicle on his way to his office. District chief Abdul Wahid Omarkhel said insurgents opened fire on the car after the blast, but his bodyguards returned fire and nobody was hurt.

The violence in Kunduz, which has seen security deteriorate over the past two years, came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited her country's troops stationed in the province — a trip referred to by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in his claim of responsibility for the two attacks.

"The purpose of her trip was to give morale to her soldiers, but today the successful attack is shaking the hearts of the occupation soldiers," Mr. Mujahid said.

Most of the fighting in Afghanistan has been concentrated in the south. An internal review of President Obama's year-old war strategy unveiled Thursday noted progress against Taliban momentum, particularly in southern areas that saw a surge of international troop levels. But the Taliban has been showing it can strike outside those areas, and violence has increased elsewhere in the country this year — the deadliest in the nearly 10-year war for foreign troops.

NATO said an international service member died in a bomb attack in the south Sunday, bringing the total number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 690, according to an Associated Press count. Previously, the worst year of war was 2009, with 502 foreign troops killed.

Some other news organizations count deaths suffered by service members assigned elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes operations in the Philippines and the Horn of Africa and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, making their totals slightly higher.

In Sunday's attack in Kabul, two insurgents strapped with explosives ambushed a bus carrying Afghan army officers to work during the morning rush hour on the outskirts of the capital, killing five and wounding nine, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

The two attackers first opened fire on the bus before one of them detonated his explosives near the vehicle. Soldiers shot the second man dead, Gen. Azimi said.

A witness, Hamidullah Khan, said the gunmen ambushed the bus as it was heading down Jalalabad Road, a main route into the city center.

"The army vehicles were passing this road, and then the Taliban or some sort of insurgents started shooting at them," Mr. Khan said.

The Afghan capital has been relatively peaceful for several months, aside from some scattered attacks with few casualties. The last major attack in Kabul was a suicide bombing against a NATO convoy in May that killed 18 people, including six NATO troops — three American colonels and a Canadian colonel among them.

The attack in Kunduz began at daybreak, when four militants stormed the recruitment center. At least one of the attackers survived, and fierce fighting broke out inside the compound. The gunbattle raged through the day and into early evening, Afghan authorities said.

Deputy Chief Abdul Rahman Aqtash of the Kunduz police said that four Afghan soldiers and four police officers were killed and that the fighting ended when the last surviving militant detonated his suicide vest. Provincial Deputy Gov. Hamdullah Danishi said initial reports indicated the attackers were dressed in army uniforms.

NATO said international forces were involved "in a supporting role to Afghan forces" and also were providing medical assistance, but it could not immediately provide further details.

Separately in the south, a roadside bomb in Kandahar province blew up a passing civilian car, killing the driver and wounding four children, said Panjwai district chief Haji Baran.

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Elena Becatoros in Kabul contributed to this report.

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