KABUL, Afghanistan – A suicide bomber struck outside a provincial council headquarters in northern Afghanistan on Monday, killing the council chief and at least 13 others, authorities said. The Taliban insurgency quickly claimed responsibility.
Seeking to weaken the Afghan government, Taliban insurgents have been carrying out attacks and assassinations intended to intimidate both officials and civilians ahead of next year's withdrawal of most international troops.
Baghlan provincial council leader Mohammad Rasoul Mohseni was entering the compound in the morning when the bomber ran up on foot and detonated his explosives in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri, said Baghlan chief of police Asadullah Sherzad.
He said 14 people were killed, including Mohseni, and 11 were wounded.
Mohammad Zahier Ghanizada, a member of parliament from Baghlan, confirmed the council chief's death and added that Mohseni had previously received multiple death threats.
Also killed in the attack were six police bodyguards and seven civilians, Sherzad said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed in a text message to journalists that an insurgent operative carried out the targeted bombing.
"Today at 11 a.m. in front of the Baghlan provincial council office, we have carried out a suicide attack and killed the head of the council," it said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing Monday.
"Such attacks are against all human rights and the principles of Islam," Karzai said in a statement. "Perpetrators of such attacks are enemies of the Afghan nation and the puppets of foreigners."
Karzai left later Monday for a two-day state visit to India, where he is expected to request military aid.
Both Karzai and the U.S. have sought peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent factions in preparation for most foreign troops leaving next year after more than 12 years of war, but the efforts have borne little fruit. The Taliban seek to re-establish the strict interpretation of Islamic law they imposed for five years before being ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion over its sheltering of al Qaeda's terrorist leadership.
The insurgents last month launched a fierce new spring offensive that has in the past week alone seen the police chief of Farah province gunned down outside his home and twin bombings that killed nine people in an elite gated community for government officials and business owners outside of the southern city of Kandahar. Two bombs also exploded outside the provincial governor's office in Nangarhar province last week, killing one police guard.
Insurgents have also targeted members of the international coalition. A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers last week in the country's south, while another insurgent faction, Hizb-e-Islami, targeted a coalition convoy in the capital of Kabul two days later, killing two U.S. soldiers and four American contractors who were training Afghan troops to take over security.