Suicide bomber in police uniform kills 9 Afghans

DUND, Afghanistan (AP) âÄî A suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up inside a police headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Monday, killing nine people and wounding eight, an official said. Five officers and four civilians died in the attack in Dund district, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) south of Kandahar city, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The attack comes as the United States prepares to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 38,000 American forces already in the country. President Barack Obama last week announced a new strategy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region with a goal to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaida. In total, there are a record 70,000 international forces in Afghanistan. The international Red Cross warned Monday that more Afghans and Pakistanis will be at risk in coming months as a result of worsening political instability and fighting. It urged the United States and others to consider the plight of civilians as they step up their military presence in the volatile region. Canadian soldiers and Afghan police stood guard at the blast site in Kandahar and ordered journalists not to take photos, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. The Canadian soldiers refused to let Afghan police approach the blast site, the reporter said. A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Lt. Commander Chris Hall, said troops later allowed photos to be taken once media credentials were checked. Kandahar is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban and continues to be a militant stronghold. Afghan police frequently suffer from Taliban attacks from roadside and suicide bombs. A roadside bomb also killed three police in the eastern province of Paktia on Monday, the ministry said. Taliban attacks have spiked the last three years, as militants have taken control of wide swaths of countryside. Afghanistan’s police, who have less training and equipment than their army counterparts, are seen as a weak link in the country’s security structure. Police officers have suffered the brunt of militant attacks, and hundreds have died in bombings and ambushes over the last year. Training and equipping the Afghan security forces is one of the key elements of the exit strategy for the U.S. and other Western troops. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that armed conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan was intensifying. Conflict in Pakistan has forced many people to flee their homes and caused a 50 percent rise in civilian casualties entering ICRC field hospitals over the past year, said Jacques de Maio, regional chief for the ICRC. “We are talking about hundreds of fresh, war-wounded civilians,” De Maio said. He said actual casualties were likely to be far higher because many cannot reach hospitals. Anticipating more fighting in the coming months, the Red Cross is doubling its budget for Pakistan to $46 million and sending more aid workers there and to Afghanistan, he said. “We expect more war-wounded. We expect more civilians being displaced,” De Maio told reporters in Geneva. The Red Cross is one of the few aid agencies able to operate in hostile tribal areas on both sides of the border because of long-running relations, including with Taliban-linked militants. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend a U.N.-sponsored conference on Afghanistan in the Netherlands on Tuesday. The meeting should “consider the plight of civilians as a matter of urgency,” de Maio said. “In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is expected that the political and military dynamics of the conflict will further endanger the lives and livelihood of civilians.” De Maio also called for better treatment of detainees, and “on a stronger, neutral and independent humanitarian response.” ___ Associated Press reporter Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva.