By Sardar Ahmad (AFP) – May 9, 2011
KABUL — Five civilians including two children died in a suicide bombing near a government office in eastern Afghanistan on Monday as security forces elsewhere finally ended a 36-hour Taliban stand-off in a major city.
The deaths came in Laghman province, east of the capital Kabul, when a suicide bomber targeted NATO and Afghan troops as they returned from meeting local leaders.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which did not kill any soldiers.
In the city of Kandahar, life was returning to normal after troops late Sunday killed the final member of a heavily-armed 28-man Taliban cell which launched a wave of attacks on government targets over the weekend.
President Hamid Karzai issued a condemnation of all recent attacks, saying they showed the "desperation" of the Taliban, who he accused of "trying to hide their defeats by killing innocent people."
The blast in Laghman took place close to the district government compound in Qarghayi district.
"Five civilians were killed and another five civilians were wounded in the suicide attack today," provincial spokesman Faizanullah Pattan told AFP.
He added that two of the dead were schoolchildren and the other three were youths looking for work.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Major Michael Johnson, said no ISAF troops were killed.
He explained that the attack happened as soldiers "were returning back to base after meeting with local leaders."
Taliban spokesman Zahihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the bombing, adding that it was part of a spring offensive announced by the insurgents just over a week ago.
Civilians are often victims of the fighting in Afghanistan, which has run for nearly 10 years as 130,000 foreign troops stationed in the country tackle Taliban insurgents.
The United Nations said last year was the deadliest for civilians since the conflict began, with 2,777 killed -- a 15 percent increase on 2009.
In Kandahar, the biggest city in Afghanistan's south and the Taliban's birthplace, people returned to the streets following a wave of violence on Saturday and Sunday which killed five people and injured nearly 50.
The standoff began at around 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) on Saturday when a squad of Taliban armed with suicide vests, guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) attacked the governor's office from nearby buildings.
Officials said at least 10 blasts, including seven suicide attacks, rocked the city as assaults spread to other sites, including police stations and the office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
After the initial violence died down, several Taliban remained holed up in a traffic police building near the NDS deep into Sunday before they were killed.
Kandahar is seen as central to US-led efforts to end the Taliban insurgency and hand Afghan forces responsibility for national security across the troubled country by 2014.
International forces say that the city and its surrounding area, traditionally hotbeds of unrest, are safer following months of intense fighting last year to clear Taliban strongholds.
But government officials and institutions are still frequently targeted by militants in the city -- last month, nearly 500 Taliban prisoners escaped from Kandahar's prison through a huge tunnel.
Separately on Monday, the beheaded bodies of four Afghan men were found hours after being kidnapped from a road construction site in the eastern province of Khost, provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai said.
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