KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed at least 10 people, including three American soldiers, at a park in a relatively peaceful area of northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, part of an increase in violence at the start of the spring fighting season.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, are targeting Afghan and NATO security forces as they fight to assert their power and undermine U.S. efforts to try to build up the Afghan military, who will take the lead in combat responsibility over the next couple of years.
Shortly before noon, the bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the park in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province, police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmad Zai said. His target was unclear, but Zai said four of the 10 killed were Afghan police officers. At least 20 people were wounded, officials said.
In Kabul, NATO said three of its service members were killed in a bombing Wednesday in northern Afghanistan. It provided no other details about the attack or the nationalities of the three.
A senior U.S. defense official, however, confirmed that three were American troops killed in the Faryab bombing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Norway and Germany, which commands alliance operations in northern Afghanistan, said none of their troops were involved. Troops of other nationalities also serve in the area — most of them at a Norwegian base that works on partnering with Afghan troops so that they can eventually take control of security in the region.
Associated Press video footage of the scene of the attack shows what appear to be dead Afghan civilians, police and foreign troops. Body parts are strewn around the gate and on the ground, which is spattered with blood.
In a statement on their Web site, the Afghan Taliban claimed killing 16 coalition troops and 12 Afghans in the Faryab suicide attack.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt among coalition forces in Maimanah as they were traveling to a park. He added that eyewitnesses said that the coalition troops indiscriminately fired their weapons, killing one civilian and wounding others. That report could not be confirmed.
Faryab is relatively calm but is a stronghold of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, an al-Qaida affiliated group that has been most active in Afghanistan's northern provinces. The IMU was formed in 1991, originally aiming to set up an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan. Later it expanded its goal to seeking an Islamic state across Central Asia.
On March 26, a joint Afghan and coalition force in Faryab killed the group's leader in Afghanistan, Makhdum Nusrat. The coalition said Nusrat had been leading attacks against Afghan and coalition troops in the north for the past eight months and was plotting the assassination of a member of parliament in Kabul.
Militants also have stepped up their attacks against international and Afghan troops nationwide in recent weeks.
Nine Afghan policemen were killed and 11 were abducted across the nation in the past three days.
Fighting in Afghanistan usually wanes during the winter months as Taliban fighters take a break because of winter weather, only to surge in the spring. Heavy snow covers many of the mountain passes used by the Taliban and other insurgent fighters to cross mainly into eastern Afghanistan from safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
Anger against foreign forces also has risen following a series of missteps, including the inadvertent burning of copies of the Muslim holy book and other religious materials in February and the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians allegedly by a rogue U.S. soldier. Foreign troops also have found themselves increasingly targeted by members of the Afghan national security forces, or militants posing in their uniforms.
So far this year, 97 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan, including at least 55 Americans.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.