KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up at a park Wednesday in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people, including two U.S. soldiers, officials said, the latest in a string of attacks as spring fighting season gets under way.
Afghan and NATO security forces have frequently been targeted in the surge of violence as militants fight to assert their power and undermine U.S. efforts to try to build up the Afghan military and leave combat responsibility to local forces by the end of 2014.
The bomber was riding a motorcycle when he detonated his explosives at the gate of the park in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province, police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmad Zai said. It was not clear what was targeted, but he said four of those killed were police officers.
Associated Press video footage of the scene of the attack showed what appear to be dead Afghan civilians, police and foreign troops at the explosion site. Body parts were strewn around the gate and on the ground and blood was spattered everywhere.
In Kabul, NATO said three of its service members were killed in a bombing Wednesday in northern Afghanistan. It provided no other details about the attack or the nationalities of the three.
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed that two of them were Americans who were killed in the Faryab bombing but he had no information on the third slain NATO service member. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information for the record.
Germany and Norway, who have troops in the region, said none of their soldiers were involved. Germany commands alliance operations in the area. There are troops of various nationalities serving there, most at a Norwegian base that houses a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Maimahan. The joint international military-civilian units work on development and reconstruction projects.
Afghan officials said at least six Afghans, including four police officers, also were killed in the attack.
Faryab is relatively calm, but it is considered to be a stronghold of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, an al-Qaida affiliated group that has been most active in the northern provinces of Afghanistan.
On March 26, a joint Afghan and coalition force killed the group's leader in Afghanistan Makhdum Nusrat and detained two other insurgents. The coalition said Nusrat had been leading attacks against Afghan and coalition troops in the north for the past eight months and had been plotting the assassination of a member of parliament in Kabul.
The IMU was formed in 1991, originally aiming to set up an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan. Later it expanded its goal to seeking an Islamic state across Central Asia.
Militants also have stepped up their attacks against international and Afghan troops nationwide in recent weeks. Nine Afghan policemen were killed and 11 abducted across the nation in the past three days.
Fighting in Afghanistan usually wanes during the winter months as Taliban fighters take a break because of winter weather, only to surge in the spring. Heavy snow covers many of the mountain passes used by the Taliban and other insurgent fighters to cross mainly into eastern Afghanistan from safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
Anger against foreign forces also has risen following a series of missteps, including the inadvertent burning of copies of the Muslim holy book and other religious materials in February and the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians allegedly by a rogue U.S. soldier. Foreign troops also have found themselves increasingly targeted.
There were conflicting accounts on the number of dead in Wednesday's attack, ranging from at least six to at least 10.
Zai said four of those killed were police officers and six were civilians, including two women and two children.
The director of Maimanah hospital, Abdul Ali Aleem, said six who died and 26 who were wounded in the suicide bombing were brought to his hospital.
Abdul Satar Barez, the deputy governor of Faryab, said the suicide attack occurred just before noon. He said it took place at a park and that foreign troops were involved.
So far this year, 97 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan, including at least 54 Americans.
Germany and Norway, who have troops in the region, said that none of their soldiers were involved. Germany commands alliance operations in the region.
Abdul Satar Barez, deputy governor of Faryab, said the attack occurred about 10:30 a.m. near a park in downtown Maimanah.
Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn in Kabul and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.