Suicide bomber kills 17 in Afghanistan
AP, Friday 7 Jan 2011
A suicide bomber killed 17 people in a bath house in Afghanistan's south

A suicide bomber struck a bath house in a southern Afghan city as men gathered to wash up before Friday prayers, killing 17 people, including a border police officer who was the apparent target, the spokesman for the Kandahar governor said Friday.

NATO also announced Friday that one of its service members was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan.

The midday attack killed 16 civilians and a police inspector in Spin Boldak, a city near the Pakistani border about 70 miles (110 kilometers) east of the provincial capital of Kandahar, said the governor's spokesman, Zalmay Ayubi. The apparent target was the inspector, who works for the border patrol, he said.

Twenty-three other people were wounded.

Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa condemned the attack, saying "such actions by insurgents show that they are neither the friends of this land, nor the Afghan people." The blast reflected the continuing instability in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern part of the country.

That area has traditionally been the Taliban's stronghold and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of a war that is approaching the start of its 10th year.

NATO has bolstered its forces in the south, but the insurgents have been able to stand their ground there while expanding their operations to other parts of Afghanistan once considered relatively safe.

Kandahar has witnessed several major attacks. A suicide attack in downtown Kandahar on Dec. 27 killed three people and wounded 26. The bomber had struck in the city's crowded center, near a police compound and a branch of Kabul Bank.

The latest NATO death was the coalition's seventh this year, marking a grim start to 2011 for the forces. Last year, 702 NATO service members were killed, the deadliest year for the international force in Afghanistan.

NATO, which has roughly 140,000 troops in the country, has struggled to quell the insurgency.

Coalition officials estimate Taliban's numbers at 25,000, roughly unchanged despite the international force's stepped-up offensive against insurgent leaders and rank-and-file fighters. The US said this week it would send an additional 1,400 combat Marines to Afghanistan.

The intensified effort is critical for NATO. US President Barack Obama plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July and NATO combat troops are scheduled to pull out of the country by 2014, handing over full security operations to their Afghan counterparts.