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Taliban Bomber, Battle Kill 9          07/13 06:33


   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A Taliban suicide car bomber struck Monday in 
northern Afghanistan, setting off a gunbattle between insurgents and government 
forces that killed at least nine people and wounded dozens, officials said.

   The attack took place in the Samangan provincial capital of Aybak. Raz 
Mohamamd Khan, a provincial council member, said the nine dead included a 
woman. He said there were 63 wounded but warned those were only initial figures 
and that the casualty toll could rise further.

   At lest two Taliban attackers were killed in the shootout, Khan added.

   Earlier, a provincial hospital chief, Abdul Khalil Musadiq, said at least 43 
wounded --- mostly civilians, including children --- were taken to hospitals in 
the area.

   The bomber targeted the intelligence service department in Aybak and the 
explosion was a signal for other Taliban fighters to storm in and engage in a 
shootout with Afghan forces, according to Mohammad Hashim Sarwari, deputy chief 
for the provincial council.

   He said the blast was so strong it was heard miles away and damaged 
buildings and homes within a wide radius.

   Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the Taliban --- who are active 
in the province and have recently stepped up attacks there --- were behind the 
bombing and the attack.

   The fighting lasted for hours and details remained sketchy because of the 
remote area. Samangan, along an ancient caravan route, has seen an uptick in 
Taliban attacks but there have also been clashes between rival warlords in the 
area, and some Islamic militants, mostly Uzbeks affiliated more with the 
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are also active there.

   On Sunday, the Taliban attacked checkpoints in northern Kunduz province, 
killing at least 14 members of the Afghan security forces, according to 
Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

   In Imam Sahib district, the Taliban killed eight policemen, while in the 
Chardara district they gunned down three soldiers and three pro-government 
fighters, he said. Reinforcement were sent late on Sunday and fighting 
continued until Monday morning.

   The Taliban said they were behind the attacks but claimed that government 
forces fired mortars in response, hitting civilian homes --- a claimed that was 
dismissed by the Ministry of Defense.

   The Taliban and government forces have been trading blame over a recent 
surge in attacks across Afghanistan --- even as efforts continue to try and 
bring about the start of direct peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

   The Taliban accuses government forces of targeting them in their homes, with 
their families bearing the brunt of those operations. Kabul, meanwhile, has 
accuse the Taliban of stepping up attacks against both civilians and the 
security forces.

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