Taliban bomber kills 13 as British troops prepare for Afghan mission

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The Independent Online

At least 13 people were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in the Afghan city of Kandahar as British troops prepare to move into the restive southern region.

A small contingent of British troops is preparing to deploy to Kandahar alongside a larger force which will move into the neighbouring province of Helmand in the coming months as part of an expanded Nato force. It will face the full threat of the Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack, the latest in a new wave of suicide bombings this year in Kandahar province. It took place outside a local police station - a clear sign it was modelled on tactics used by insurgents in Iraq, where local police and soldiers have been targeted as "collaborators" with the US.

The suicide bomber tried to enter the police compound on a motorcycle, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. As security officers tried to search him, he detonated his explosives. Seven police officers were among the dead. Thirteen people were injured, with some in a critical condition.

In a separate attack in Spin Boldak, in Kandahar province on the Pakistan border, three people were injured when a bomb hidden in a bicycle went off.

Last month three people including a Canadian diplomat were killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar, and another 23 died when a suicide bomber rode a motorcycle loaded with explosives into a crowd watching a wrestling match in Spin Boldak. One of the Taliban's most notorious commanders boasted that many people wanted to be suicide bombers. Speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, Mullah Dadullah, known in Afghanistan as Dadullah the Lame, told the Reuters news agency: "More and more people are joining us to be suicide bombers. The suicide bombings will continue against coalition forces and their agents. This is part of our military strategy."

The British Foreign Office minister responsible for Afghanistan, Kim Howells, rejected the charge that the British soldiers were heading into a "mission impossible" in Afghanistan.

The Labour MP Paul Flynn asked in the House of Commons: "Aren't we on mission impossible in sending troops into the Helmand province and won't it result, perversely, in an increase of violence and drive the local farmers into the hands of the Taliban?"

Mr Howells, who is also responsible for countering narcotics, replied: "It's not enough to assume that if you eat the right kind of muesli and go to first nights of Harold Pinter revivals and read The Independent occasionally that the drug barons of Afghanistan are going to go away."