Afghan gov. wants more troops after 12 explosions

KANDAHAR: The governor of Kandahar province demanded more security around Afghanistan's largest southern city Sunday after 12 explosions killed dozens of people in the Taliban heartland that will be the target of the war's next major offensive.

The coordinated attacks around Kandahar city Saturday night included two car bombs, six suicide attackers on motorbikes and bicycles plus four homemade bombs, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said. At least 33 people died, including 10 women and children attending a wedding celebration in a hall next to a police station that was targeted.

Kandahar province is considered the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban insurgency and is widely known to be the next stop for NATO and Afghan forces after a major combined push to take another militant stronghold in next-door Helmand province.

Among the targets of Saturday night's explosions were a newly fortified prison and police headquarters. Wesa said at least six police officers were among the dead.

Another roadside bomb Sunday morning targeted a car carrying Pakistani construction workers south of the city in the district of Dand, Wesa said. Four of the Pakistani workers and their Afghan driver were wounded.

Wesa told reporters Sunday that he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to be sent to protect the city in the run-up to the expected offensive. He also that he also wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security.

The attacks mirrored a 2008 suicide bombing at the Kandahar prison gates that freed hundreds of prisoners, many of them suspected insurgents. No inmates escaped this time — the prison gates were reinforced with cement block.

The prison was the main target, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half brother said. Ahmed Wali Karzai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, said two of the explosions occurred near his home, which was not damaged.

Wali Karzai told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Canadian troops had reinforced the prison with cement block after the 2008 suicide attack.

"They wanted to keep people busy in the city and break the prison, but the Canadians last time did a good job," Wali Karzai said. "They did a lot of reconstruction so they couldn't break the prison this time."

Kandahar, population 800,000, was the seat of government for the Taliban when the movement ruled Afghanistan, imposing their vision of Islamic theocracy on the populace for five years before being toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

Armed Taliban bands still control villages around the city, and Taliban agents move through the city at night, delivering letters warning people against cooperating with the U.S.-backed government. International forces find homemade bombs almost daily as they patrol the city streets.

Training a workable Kandahar police force has become a priority for international forces trying to build trust in the Afghan government, which they hope will eventually be able to take over security. The 2,800 Canadian troops who oversee operations in Kandahar city and the surrounding province are due to leave Afghanistan next year.

The U.S. sent nearly 300 more military police to Kandahar in August to help build up the 2,000-strong local police force — a six-fold increase over the small Canadian and U.S. force that had been there training Afghan police, traditionally one of the country's least-trusted institutions.

Afghan National Police forces were the first to respond to Saturday's explosions and some Canadian troops later deployed to support them, Canadian military spokeswoman Capt. Cynthia LaRue said.

"The most important part here is to remember that ANP did a very good job and responded quickly," LaRue said by telephone Sunday.

U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are planning an offensive in Kandahar province later this year, a follow-up to an ongoing military operation in Helmand province. Thousands of troops worked for three weeks to seize control of the district of Marjah from the Taliban.

The Marjah offensive is the first test of top Afghanistan commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy to rout insurgents from areas, set up new governance and rush in development aid in hopes of winning the loyalty of the residents.