KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (NYTIMES) - A Taleban attack on police checkpoints that killed 11 officers in Helmand province and a suicide bombing of a Nato convoy that left a civilian in Kandahar dead capped a bloody day of violence in the restive south of Afghanistan, officials said Sunday (Dec 17).
Navy Captain Tom Gresback, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said there were no fatalities or injuries among the coalition forces.
Dozens of Taleban militants stormed the police checkpoints in Lashkar Gah City that form a security belt around the city about 2 am, said Omar Zwak, the provincial spokesman.
Zwak said 11 Afghan police officers had been killed, but local media reports, as well as residents in the area, put the number of dead much higher. Haji Niamatullah, who lives in the area, said that as many as 14 officers had been killed and three others wounded.
"The fighting was brief, and it didn't go on for long," Niamatullah said.
Helmand remains one of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan, with the Taleban controlling much of its vast territory. About 300 US Marines are based there, training and advising the Afghan army and the police.
Their hope is to reverse some of the gains that the Taleban have made over the past couple of years, where the fighters continue to surround Lashkar Gah City.
The province is the country's largest opium-producing area, and the violence there is sometimes related to the drug trade. Last week, media outlets reported that about two dozen bodies had been unearthed in the deserts between Helmand and Kandahar, a major smuggling route.
Afghan officials could not confirm the identities of most of the dead. Some officials speculated that the carnage may have resulted from drug-related violence, as groups, sometimes including members of the security forces, have been known to chase smugglers to seize their cargo.
The suicide bomb targeting the Nato convoy occurred in Daman district on the main highway connecting Kandahar to the border with Pakistan. Qudratullah Khushbakht, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said one passer-by, a woman, had been killed and four other civilians wounded.
A police spokesman said the woman had been killed when her house nearby collapsed from the force of the blast.