Taliban militants killed 15 Afghans and wounded 14 more in eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border on Tuesday, with a suicide bomb followed by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades aimed at police, NATO said.
The Taliban have vowed to step up suicide attacks this year, to undermine the faith of Afghans in the ability of their government to provide security and sap support in the West for the continued presence of international troops in the country.
"Initial reports indicate that a suicide bomber murdered and injured civilians in the district centre, while a number of ANP (Afghan National Police) were killed and wounded in their station nearby with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
ISAF forces were near the district centre of Khogiani, a town south of the city of Jalalabad, at the time of the blast, but escaped injury and were now helping to treat the wounded and evacuate them to hospital, an ISAF spokesman said.
One local resident, reached by telephone from Kabul, said the dead included 11 Afghan security force members and two children.
The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide attacks across the country targeting foreign and Afghan government forces last year, but most of the victims -- around 200 -- were civilians.
Fighting has steadily stepped up in the south and east in recent weeks as Spring arrives and mountain snows begin to melt.
US MARINES ATTACK
A US general warned last week there could be higher levels of violence in Afghanistan this year, with many attacks in the east originating across the border in lawless tribal areas of Pakistan where Afghan officials say militants enjoy a safe haven.
The latest blast in the east came as US Marines began moving in to capture a town from Taliban militants in the south, their first large operation in Afghanistan since arriving to reinforce Nato troops last month.
The United States, frustrated by the failure of some European NATO allies to come up with troops to help out in fighting in southern Afghanistan, sent 3,200 Marines to bolster British, Canadian and Dutch forces engaged in daily battles there.
The US Marines' drive into the town of Garmsir in Helmand, the world' biggest opium producing region and a hotbed of insurgent activity, is the first significant fruit of that move.
The Marines were largely uncontested as they began the operation by securing routes into the town, said US Marines spokeswoman Captain Kelly Frushour.
"Late this morning and into the afternoon we've encountered some light resistance in the form of small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from buildings along the routes that we're securing, but nothing huge or organised," she said.
The town of Garmsir in the south of Helmand has been the scene of frequent raids by Afghan, British and US troops, but has hitherto eluded capture.
Of the 3,200 US Marines sent to Afghanistan, some 800 are involved in training Afghan security forces, seen by the Afghan government and the international community as the long-term key to bringing peace to Afghanistan.
The remaining 2,400 Marines are a highly mobile force that ISAF can rapidly deploy wherever they are needed.
Currently, "a large percentage of them are forward deployed into Helmand," Frushour said. (Reuters)