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Suicide bomber kills 30 in Afghanistan; NATO investigates airstrike

NATO also investigating air strike that may have killed 50 civilians.

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A U.S. Marine from 2nd Batallion, 1st Marines Regiment talks to a child during a patrol in Gamser on Feb. 20, 2011. There are around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States. (Adek Berry/Getty Images)

A suicide bomber killed at least 30 people in a government office in northern Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, underscoring an uptick in violence across the country ahead of an expected spring offensive.

Afghan and NATO-led forces were also investigating two serious incidents involving 50 civilian deaths, the latest killing up to six people when a misdirected air strike appeared to hit a home in eastern Nangarhar province, according to Reuters.

As GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie writes in her blog Monday, another account of mass casualties in Afghanistan is certain to inflame anti-foreign sentiment.

In Kunduz province in the north, the center of a growing front in the Taliban-led insurgency, a suicide bomber killed at least 30 people, Mohammad Ayoub Haqyar, the chief of Emam Saheb district, told Reuters. Another 40 were wounded.

Haqyar said the bomber struck while people were lining up to collect identity cards inside a government office.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the blast on behalf of the Islamist group. He said the target was men who were signing up for a community police group.

Civilian deaths rose last year to 2,421, about six people per day, and local media blamed Taliban-led insurgents for 63 percent of those killings, according to a report last month by a Kabul- based group, Afghan Rights Monitor. U.S.-led forces were blamed for 21 percent, the report said.

Meanwhile, MacKenzie reports that 29 children and 20 women were among 50 civilians killed in NATO air strikes in Kunar province over the weekend.

"Nothing undermines the international effort in Afghanistan as much as civilian casualties – non-combatants erroneously targeted or accidentally killed by U.S. or NATO forces," she writes. "It is difficult to convince a village that the troops are there to help when they have just flattened everything for a kilometer around."

NATO has promised to investigate in Kunar, saying it is “taking all reports of civilian casualties very seriously.”

But, writes MacKenzie, the military has already started circulating its own version, telling the media that they had picked up radio chatter in which the Taliban said they were planning to release false reports of civilian casualties.

The instability of the area made reporting difficult, and the U.S. military appeared to be scrutinizing the work of reporters in the area.

"Two journalists from Al Jazeera were detained by the U.S. military in Kunar on Monday, supposedly for lacking proper credentials," MacKenzie wrote.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/110221/afghanistan-suicide-bomber-nato-airstrike