Afghan police officers inspect a charred vehicle after a suicide bombing Sunday at the entrance of the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. (The Associated Press)

KABUL — Ten Afghan police officers were killed Sunday when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the main police compound in the southern town of Lashkar Gah, in the first major attack of its kind in an area where Afghans recently assumed full security responsibility from the NATO-led troops.

The officers were on a routine patrol at the entrance of the compound when the attack happened, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province. Lashkar Gah is its provincial capital. One child was also killed in the strike that left behind seven other police officers wounded, he said.

The resurgent Taliban guerrillas, fighting to drive out foreign forces and topple President Hamid Karzai’s government, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Taliban have targeted many of the seven areas that are among the first phase of the transition to draw down U.S. troops. Sunday’s assault is the latest in a recent string of attacks that have included the assassination of numerous high-profile military and civil officials.

The transition to a more independent Afghan security force is part of a gradual plan to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces by 2014.

Afghan forces have been bankrolled economically and militarily by Western nations since U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001. But despite the expenditure of billions of dollars, Afghan forces lack an air force, tanks and even the weapons needed to tackle national and regional threats.

Washington and its other allies have pledged to continue helping Afghans stand on their feet beyond the 2014 deadline, but so far, the U.S. has refused Kabul’s request to provide F-16 fighter jets, tanks and arms it is seeking.

Many Afghans fear that an exit of foreign troops without first stabilizing their country will push the war-ravaged nation into a civil conflict similar to that of the 1990s, years after the pullout of the former Soviet forces.

Under mounting pressure about the cost of the nearly decade-long war, rising casualties among foreign troops and a stalemate on the battlefield, the U.S. and NATO last year agreed to a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Salahuddin is a special correspondent.