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Deadly Blasts Strike Two Cities In Afghanistan

An Afghan police officer looks at a police vehicle damaged in a suicide attack Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province.
Abdul Khaleq
An Afghan police officer looks at a police vehicle damaged in a suicide attack Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province.

A minivan carrying women and children returning from an engagement party in Afghanistan struck an improvised land mine that killed 16 people, Afghan officials said Tuesday.

Eleven children were among the dead in Herat province's Shindand district. An additional four people in the car were wounded, said Mohammad Salim, the police garrison chief for the district.

Earlier in the day, a suicide car bomb attack targeted a local business that provides bread for the Afghan police in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, the main city in Helmand province.

The bomber apparently was waiting in the car at the gates of the police headquarters just outside the bakery where officers regularly buy bread in the morning, said the deputy provincial police chief, Kamaluddin Sherzai. He said the attacker then slammed into a police truck that was parked at the shop, triggering the bomb.

Two civilians — a man and a young boy — were killed, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. An addicitonal 26 people were wounded, including 10 police officers and six children, he said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the Lashkar Gah attack.

According to the U.N., the Taliban and other insurgent groups have caused the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, which are at an all-time high in the 10-year-old conflict.

The Taliban also released a formal statement rejecting claims that the insurgency has become splintered or that the group or any of their allies have ties to the Pakistani government. The statement said the Taliban insurgency "is at its strongest and unified more than it has been at any other stage" and denied that the movement has bases in Pakistan.

The claim runs contrary to U.S. and international assertions that the Taliban retain numerous safe havens and bases in Pakistan's tribal areas, used to stage attacks into neighboring Afghanistan.

The Taliban also reject U.S. charges that the Haqqani network, a key affiliate, has ties to Pakistan's intelligence service. The group says Haqqani network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani is a key member of the Taliban leadership.

The Taliban statement appeared to be an attempt to give the Pakistani government some breathing room as Islamabad comes under increasing pressure to take action against insurgents within its borders.

In the wake of three major attacks in the Afghan capital in the past two weeks, U.S. officials have ramped up their public comments alleging the Pakistani government backs the Haqqani network, which is believed to be behind a number of attacks in and around Kabul. The Afghan government, meanwhile, has upped its protests against cross-border artillery attacks it blames on Pakistan.

On Monday, the Afghan government said that Afghan-Pakistan relations will suffer if the attacks in eastern Afghanistan continue.

A NATO forces spokesman said Monday that the Haqqani network is still very much operating out of Pakistan.

"We have no credible intelligence indicating that the Haqqani network has eliminated their operating safe havens in Pakistan," said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan. "They continue to plan and execute operations from across the border."

In Kabul, meanwhile, tensions between different political factions were on the rise as hundreds of demonstrators, led by former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, accused the government of mishandling the investigation into last week's killing of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Saleh told the assembled group that international officials should investigate the assassination rather than the Afghan government. He said that he did not trust Afghan officials to conduct an honest investigation.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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