- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (AP) - Three suicide bombers disguised in army uniforms stormed a government office in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday after a fourth detonated a car bomb, officials said. At least 10 people _ including the four assailants _ died.

The coordinated assault underscored a new tactic by Afghan militants to launch multidirectional attacks against government offices. It mirrored a February attack in Kabul, where militants assaulted three government buildings simultaneously, killing 20.

Wednesday’s attack on Kandahar’s provincial council office killed five civilians and a police officer, said Zemeri Bashary, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman.

The assault began just before noon, when a suicide bomber in a vehicle full of explosives blew himself up at the gates of the council office, opening the way for three other attackers in Afghan army uniforms to storm the building, said Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of the council and President Hamid Karzai’s brother.

Karzai told The Associated Press that he was the target of the attack, but that he had left the building five minutes before the assault began. He did not say how he knew he was the target.

The attack comes amid a burst of violence in Afghanistan, where some 60 militants have died in battles the last three days. President Barack Obama _ who is deploying an additional 21,000 U.S. forces to bolster the record 38,000 already in the country _ has said the U.S. will increase its focus on the “increasingly perilous” situation in Afghanistan.

After the car bomb explosion, three militants wearing suicide vests and carrying AK-47 assault rifles stormed the building, Bashary said. Police killed two of the suicide attackers and the third one blew himself up, Bashary said. A fourth bomber died in the car bomb, bringing the overall death toll to at least 10.

“Two attackers blew themselves up inside the compound and the third one was killed by our forces,” Karzai said.

The Kandahar attack came as the Interior Ministry announced that Afghan police and coalition forces killed 31 militants in a Taliban controlled region in a neighboring province, the second large battle in the Afghan south in two days.

The battle took place in three villages in the Kajaki region of Helmand province on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said. Twenty militants were wounded in the fighting, it said.

Kajaki is the site of a U.S.-funded dam that provides hydroelectric power to much of southern Afghanistan. While a small unit of British troops protects and controls the dam, those forces are surrounded by hostile militants on all sides.

The Afghan government admits it has little control in that region of Helmand, the world’s largest opium poppy-growing region. U.N. officials estimate that the Taliban and other drug lords derive up to $500 million a year from the illegal trade.

The Kajaki battle was the second large-scale skirmish with militants this week. A police chief in Uruzgan province said Afghan and foreign troops killed 30 Taliban fighters in his province on Monday.

Violence in Afghanistan is expected to surge this year as the new U.S. troops arrive. Militant attacks have grown increasingly deadly the last three years, and insurgents now control wide swaths of countryside where Afghan and international forces don’t have enough manpower to maintain a permanent presence.

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