KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among men washing in a bathhouse ahead of Friday prayers, killing 17, in an attack that showed militants can still largely strike at will in southern Afghanistan despite a NATO offensive.
Roadside bombs also killed three NATO service members in the south and east, coalition officials said Friday.
The latest NATO deaths raised to nine the number of coalition forces killed this year and marked 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.
Coalition officials estimate the Taliban's numbers at 25,000 — roughly unchanged despite the international force's stepped-up offensive against insurgent leaders and rank-and-file fighters.
In Kandahar's provincial capital, gunmen shot dead a police inspector, bringing the day's death toll to 21. Authorities said they suspect the Taliban assassinated the police inspector.
The day's violence underscored the dangers in southern Afghanistan — and in particular Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban. Some of the fiercest fighting in the nearly 10-year war has taken place in the south, where international forces, bolstered by the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops over the summer, are battling to to disrupt the insurgents' network.
The bathhouse bombing in the Kandahar province town of Spin Boldak, just across the border from Pakistan, was the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan in more than a month. Zalmay Ayubi, the Kandahar governor's spokesman, said 16 civilians and a police inspector were killed in the attack, and 23 were wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility.