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Suicide bombers kill at least 16 in Afghanistan

By Hashmat Baktash and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times –

KABUL, Afghanistan — Suicide bombers in western and southern Afghanistan killed at least 16 other people Tuesday, including several policeman, in the latest violence to hit the central Asian nation.

The largest attack took place about 8:40 a.m. in the western Herat province when police blocked a Toyota 4-wheel drive vehicle loaded with explosives from entering a district police headquarters. “The vehicle was being chased by police,” said Rauf Ahmedi, a spokesman for the regional police commander.

Three suicide bombers inside detonated the vehicle at the gate of the compound, located near the Herat city airport, where many foreign and Afghan troops are based. The blast killed at least nine people, including three police officers, and wounded more than two dozen.

A short while later, the additional bodies of two men wearing suicide vests and a woman in a burqa were discovered inside the vehicle. Herat province has been relatively peaceful, with NATO transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces last July.

In southern Helmand province, meanwhile, three suicide attackers wearing vests packed with explosives parked their vehicle outside a police office a few hours later and walked toward the entrance.

Police fired at the attackers, killing one, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial government. The others blew themselves up inside the compound, killing four people and wounding five, including the district commander.

Officials blamed the Helmand attack in part on a poppy-eradication campaign that they said has angered local militants. In messages to the media, the Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.

An hour later, another suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted a local police vehicle in front of the same police compound in Helmand, killing three more police officers and wounding four others who had come to look after their colleagues, said Ahmadi. Two civilians were also wounded in the second blast.

Insurgents have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks as spring weather has allowed greater mobility. And with NATO troops set to hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014, Taliban groups have increased their assaults on Afghan government representatives in a bid to set the stage for wresting political control after foreign troops depart.

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