KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday at the main gate of a provincial police headquarters in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 people in a city where Afghans have recently taken control of security.
The blast in Lashkar Gah was the latest in a string of attacks in the south in recent weeks that have included assassinations of high-level government officials in neighboring Kandahar and a coordinated attack against government buildings in Uruzgan province that killed 19 people last week.
The high-profile attacks have provoked a growing sense of insecurity in the very region where international military commanders say security has improved since the surge of U.S. troops last year. Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, in particular has been touted as a success story from the offensive by international forces — one reason it was one of seven areas handed over to Afghan forces earlier this month.
The attack early Sunday, which ripped a gaping hole in the station compound's wall, killed 10 police officers and a child, and wounded as least 12 people, said Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi.
People at the site said a police vehicle was on fire at the gate. Ahmadi said a suicide bomber apparently drove a car between two police vehicles at the entrance and then detonated the explosives.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
It has been less than two weeks since Lashkar Gah was formally handed over to Afghan control in the first stage of a plan to have all of Afghanistan under the oversight of Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. It is the capital city of a province that has been a stronghold for the insurgency and where U.S. Marines have massed over the past year to try to turn back the Taliban.
The attack comes as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tours Afghanistan for a second day. He has been meeting with military commanders and troops in the south, a region that has been rocked by violence and suicide attacks in recent weeks. Mullen visited a base outside Kandahar city on Sunday morning.
Mullen told reporters that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has until mid-October to submit a plan for the initial withdrawal of American troops. Mullen's comments for the first time laid out a deadline for Marine Gen. John Allen to submit plans for the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year.
His decisions may hinge in part on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday.
In the east, meanwhile, an international service member was killed Sunday in a pre-dawn bomb attack, according to a NATO forces statement.
The statement did not provide further details on Sunday's attack, nor the nationality of the dead.
At least 48 international service members have been killed in Afghanistan in July, including the latest death.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report from Kabul, Afghanistan.