Taliban bomber, battle kill at least 9 in north Afghanistan

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KABUL, July 13 (AP): A Taliban suicide car bomber struck on 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 least 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 engages 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 Defence.

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 accused the Taliban of stepping up attacks against both civilians and the security forces.

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