KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bombing in the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar killed three people and wounded 26 others, mostly police, officials said Monday, in an attack spotlighting instability in Afghanistan as the NATO-led fight against insurgents there approaches the start of its 10th year.
The bomber struck in the crowded center of the city, near a police compound and a branch of Kabul Bank, and witnesses described a chaotic scene after the dust and smoke cleared.
"I was sitting near the gate when this explosion occurred. We fell to the ground, and we couldn't see anything for five minutes" because of the dust and smoke caused by the blast, said Noor Mohammad, a policeman who was guarding the bank, adding that police and security guards from nearby buildings and compounds took the casualties to a hospital.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw pieces of the suicide bomber's car scattered around the street. Three police vehicles, at least two civilian cars and two shops in the area also were destroyed by the blast.
In a statement, President Hamid Karzi condemned the midday attack. The government and witnesses said it killed three people.
The bombing highlighted the precarious nature of security gains in Afghanistan and the challenges the country faces in trying to quell an insurgency that has found a measure of safety in Afghanistan's rugged terrain and porous borders.
Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar, hours after the blast, stressed that Pakistan should not provide safe havens for insurgents and pressed the need for better security cooperation between the neighboring nations.
Pakistan is host to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, a militant movement based in its North Waziristan region that carries out operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan's government is believed to give the group some freedom as a way of securing Islamist support against archrival India.
Mr. Omar said Mr. Karzai stressed during a recent minisummit in Turkey that providing safe havens for these groups is detrimental to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as evidenced in recent suicide attacks and raids on military posts in Pakistan. Mr. Omar said the two countries must take joint measures to tackle terrorism.
There can be no improvement in the overall security situation "unless we are sincere in our cooperation," he said.
Such efforts are seen as pivotal in Afghanistan, where the war rages despite the addition of tens of thousands of coalition forces that raised the total number of international troops 140,000.
While there have been some "major achievements in terms of security" this year, Mr. Omar said, those advances are "temporary and can be reversed" if additional measures are not taken.
Mr. Karzai long has tried to bring elements of the Taliban to the negotiating table. He believes that integrating the insurgents into the government will deprive foreign fighters such as al Qaeda of the support network in the country and give all Afghans a role in shaping the future of their war-ravaged nation.
NATO said one of its service members was killed Monday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. It provided no other details.
This year has been the deadliest of the nearly 10-year war for foreign troops, with 697 killed so far in 2010, according to an AP count.
Afghan and NATO forces also said that four insurgents were killed in an overnight airstrike in the southern province of Helmand. Five were arrested, the provincial governor's office said in a statement without elaborating.
NATO said that "numerous insurgents were killed" in two separate incidents in Helmand and Kandahar on Sunday during an operation targeting suspect vehicles. Several suspected insurgents were detained, the coalition said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed from Kandahar.