Eight U.S. service members killed in series of attacks in southern Afghanistan

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A map of Kandahar, Afghanistan
By Joshua Partlow
Thursday, July 15, 2010

KABUL -- A spate of attacks that included a bombing outside an Afghan police base in Kandahar city killed eight American troops and three police officers, NATO officials said Wednesday, reflecting stepped-up resistance by the Taliban to coalition efforts to secure southern Afghanistan.

The most brazen attack was an assault Tuesday night at the headquarters of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a force that recently came to Kandahar to work with NATO troops to secure the city. A car bomb exploded at about 9 p.m. on the base's perimeter, followed by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Three U.S. troops were killed, along with five Afghan civilians -- including four interpreters -- and three police officers, according to NATO and Afghan officials.

NATO officials said the attackers did not breach the compound's perimeter, but the Kandahar provincial police chief, Sardar Mohammad Zazai, gave a slightly different account. He said two suicide bombers attacked on foot -- the first blasting a wall and the second detonating his explosives inside.

"The Taliban's aim is just destruction and to cause casualties," he said.

Four other U.S. service members died Wednesday in a bombing attack in southern Afghanistan, and a fifth was killed by gunfire. Officials did not immediately offer more information about the location or circumstances of those deaths.

The Afghan National Civil Order Police, whose members are regarded by NATO troops as better trained and more effective than the Afghan National Police, has assumed an increasingly important role in Afghan security. The force is organized into mobile units that can travel to hot spots; it deployed in Marja in the Helmand province, not long after U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers recaptured the town from the Taliban this year.

So far this month, 45 NATO troops, including 33 Americans, have died in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.

Also Wednesday, the ousted district governor of Marja, Abdul Zahir Aryan, known as Haji Zahir, said that despite being fired this week, he's "very happy."

"I'm not sad. I served my country," he said. "I laid down the foundation for democracy."

Zahir, a minor political figure in what became a major town for the U.S. military, was the centerpiece of what Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal called "government in a box": the plan to seize a Helmand town from the Taliban and quickly install a functioning government. That plan faltered in the face of a determined insurgency and villagers' wariness about new leadership.

Zahir, who served four years in prison in Germany for stabbing his stepson, was officially an acting governor on a five-month detail. Some Afghan officials said he failed a selection process he needed to pass to stay in office, but others said he chose not to take part. He is being replaced by Abdul Mutalab, who has served in provincial and district government positions in Helmand.

"It's very difficult when you build a house. Laying down the foundation is very hard and takes a lot of time," Zahir said in a telephone interview from Marja. "We still lack governmental staff, because nobody is willing to make the sacrifice to live in Marja."

Zahir said he, too, plans to move. "For my safety, I cannot say where I will stay," he said. "I'll try to find somewhere I feel safe, and I'll stay there."

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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