Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2011

Suicide bomber kills 30 in Afghanistan’s north

The blast at an Afghan government administrative center kills civilians waiting for ID cards or other documents, officials say. It follows a string of insurgent attacks aimed at so-called soft targets

By Laura King

Reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber struck a government administrative center in northern Afghanistan on Monday, killing about 30 people, many of them civilians who were trying to obtain identification cards or other official documents, the provincial government said.

Site of bomb blast in Kunduz on Feb. 21 2011
Afghan Police inspect the site of the suicide attack. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

A mother touches her wounded son after a suicide attack in Emam Saheb district of Kunduz province Feb. 21, 2011
A mother touches her wounded son after a suicide attack in Emam Saheb district of Kunduz province February 21, 2011. (Photo: Reuters/Wahdat)

It was not immediately clear whether the bomber's main target in Kunduz province was the government office or a district police post in the same complex, said Mahboobullah Sayedi, the deputy governor of Kunduz.

The attack underscored the deadly danger that mundane errands can pose these days for ordinary Afghans. On Saturday, a team of insurgents with guns and bombs laid waste to a bank branch in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people inside.

Direct military clashes tend to drop off during the cold winter months, but militants in recent weeks have mounted a string of attacks in Afghan population centers, taking aim at so-called soft targets — banks, markets, offices — where people congregate in large numbers.

Afghan police and government officials at any level are considered fair game by the Taliban and other insurgents, who have decreed that cooperation with the administration of President Hamid Karzai or the Western military is punishable by death. This month, a suicide bomber killed the chief local administrator of another district in Kunduz, and the province's governor was assassinated four months ago.

The latest bombing took place in the district of Imam Sahib, which is near the border with Tajikistan and has long been a stronghold of insurgents. Kunduz as a whole was relatively safe until about two years ago, when a variety of militant groups gained a foothold and began spreading their influence to other parts of the country's north.

Until last year, most of the foreign troops in northern Afghanistan were German. As the situation has deteriorated, more U.S. troops have been deployed to the region to bolster them, though American forces remain concentrated in the country's south and east, where the insurgency has traditionally been the strongest.

Last week, in an apparent rogue attack in Baghlan province, bordering Kunduz, an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on a group of German soldiers, killing three of them and wounding six others.

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