Suicide bomb death toll rises to 18


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The Independent Online

A bomb that tore through a police headquarters at the heart of British territory in Helmand has left locals terrified for their lives as the death toll rose to 18.

There was also speculation that the suicide bombing, which happened just minutes after the Chief of Police General Hakim Angar had passed by, may have been targeted at him.

The attack on Sunday came at an ominous time, just a fortnight after the British military handed over control to Afghan forces at Lashkar Gah, which was celebrated as a security success story, and on the eve of Ramadan.

Last night General Angar was defiant, pointing out that transition meant they were being deliberately attacked by the Taliban, which claimed responsibility.

"They want to show the Afghan security forces are not doing a good job. But we are confident and we are ready to make sacrifices. We are ready to give up our lives to keep security, to protect our people. This is my message and the message of every police officer," he said.

He was speaking as news emerged that four police officers in Nuristan province, bordering Pakistan, had been killed by a Nato air strike and 12 more were detained. The governor Jamaluddin Badar strongly condemned the attack and arrests late Sunday. Nato said it was aware of the allegations of friendly fire and said it was investigating. In Lashkar Gah locals said the bombing had left them fearful their own police will not be able to cope.

"People are very sad about this and everyone is worried about everyone else. People are afraid it might happen to them. They think if it happened within the police headquarters, to those responsible for security, it could happen to anybody anywhere in the city," explained local Mahmood Ghafoory.

Just after 8.30am, the bomber drove up to a series of check points on the outer cordon of the police headquarters and detonated his explosives near a training area. Just minutes earlier the street had been lined with officers awaiting the arrival of General Angar.

The explosion, which sent reverberations through the nearby British military headquarters, caused carnage, ripping through the wall of the police compound, setting light to vehicles and killing and maiming. Initial reports said that seven local policeman as well as five from the ANCOP civil order force were killed alongside a seven year-old boy while ten more officers were injured.

But Mr Ghafoory, who works for the local Tamadun Radio, said the initial figure of 13 had now risen to 18 with the deaths of several of the injured. Others, he said, remained critically wounded.

"The Afghans are responsible for security and that is very good but if things like this happen again, especially to the security forces, then we have to go back for help from the international forces to control the situation.

"The police are very good but they are not well equipped and they have a problem finding the insurgents," said Mr Ghafoory.

"The people are very unhappy the British and Americans are not helping. The Taliban are targeting Lashkar Gah, Gereshk and Marjah. They are very important areas and the Afghan police don't have the capacity for security," explained journalist Sifetullah Zahidi.

Nevertheless, Inspector Brian Flanagan, a former Greater Manchester officer who has been training the police with European Union Police Mission, said he was impressed with the efficiency with which they dealt with the situation, pointing out that just two years ago a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman had got into the heart of the headquarters and killed 14 but Sunday's bomber had been stopped at the outer cordon.

"It is a tragedy but from a security perspective, there has been a marked improvement. Before it would have been utter chaos. They are moving forward and are much more conscious of security. It is time they stepped up to the plate and took ownership."

He insisted they bore no relation to drug peddling, criminal element he had first encountered in 2007: "I didn't think they were worth one out of ten then but now I would put them at 4 to 6. We are getting there."