KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a police checkpoint and a bank in the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday, one of two attacks in the heartland of the insurgency that killed 18 people over 24 hours.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the bombings on the Taliban. The militants have escalated their activity as U.S.-led foreign forces reduce their presence in the country and are in the final phase of handing over responsibility for security to Afghan troops.
Karzai said the militants should stop taking orders from foreigners — a veiled reference to Pakistan, whose intelligence services are alleged to be in league with the Afghan Taliban. The president said the security transition is nearly complete and the militants were desperate to derail it.
Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the bombing damaged the bank branch, several small shops and vehicles. He said six people died — four of them civilians, one police officer and one private security guard. He said 24 people were wounded, most of them civilians.
Twelve people were killed in an ambush of a vehicle involving a roadside bomb in Sangin district in Helmand province, also in the south, on Friday evening, said Omer Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
Zwak said that 11 men and one woman died in the attack, and that the vehicle also was hit by gunfire. Such attacks typically target security forces, but, in this case, "the victims are all civilians and had no link with the government," Zwak said.
On Saturday evening, a handful of insurgents attacked a police compound in Qalat, a city in southern Zabul province. The insurgents then holed up in a nearby house, under siege from security forces, said Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, the province's deputy governor.
Rasoolyar said one police officer and one militant were killed in the fighting, while three police officers were wounded. As of Saturday, the standoff was ongoing.
NATO DEATH: A NATO service member was killed Saturday by insurgents in the country's east, a military statement. The statement did not give details on the person killed. Mostly U.S. troops operate in eastern Afghanistan.