KABUL – KABUL (AP) — Taliban suicide bombers disguised as police attacked a government compound Wednesday in southwestern Afghanistan in an assault that left 13 people dead, including a provincial council member and all nine attackers, authorities said.
Eight of the bombers blew themselves up and police shot the ninth, President Hamid Karzai's office said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as the provincial council was meeting in Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. The militant group said the council was trying to turn Afghans against the militants.
Insurgents have carried out coordinated suicide attacks on government and aid installations in the past to strike a blow against NATO and Afghan attempts to counter the insurgency. This summer, a U.S.-led military operation will try to clear the southern city of Kandahar of Taliban fighters in what will be a critical test of the war.
Many insurgents fled to Nimroz province, which is farther west and along the border with Iran, earlier this year when troops conducted an offensive to rout the Taliban from neighboring Helmand province. Nimroz is also a major trafficking route for Afghanistan's huge opium trade.
In Wednesday's hourlong attack, nine suicide bombers wearing Afghan National Police uniforms tried to infiltrate the provincial governor's compound where the Nimroz council was meeting, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Jabar Pardeli. Police became suspicious and fired on them, Pardeli said.
The suicide bombers then began to blow themselves up or fire back, prompting blasts and gunbattles.
A female provincial council member was among the dead, according to Gov. Gulam Dastagar Azad.
Two police officers and a civilian also died, and 10 police were wounded, authorities said.
Sadeq Chakhansori, a member of the Afghan parliament who was in Nimroz for a meeting, identified the dead council member as Gul Maki Wakhali.
Police also found a car packed with explosives near the compound, which houses a court, the governor's offices and a guest house, Azad said. The Interior Ministry said the car bomb was defused before it could explode.
The Taliban carried out the attack because the council was trying to persuade Afghans to turn against the insurgents, said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi.
He said the council included "friends of NATO," and that "any friend of the enemy is an enemy."
Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO's mission in Afghanistan, condemned the "callous" attack and praised the response of Afghan police.
"The professionalism of the Afghan National Police in defeating the attack is a demonstration of their capability to respond to security challenges," he said in a statement.
In other violence, the Interior Ministry reported three explosions Wednesday that targeted the vehicles of private development companies in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Zabul.
The ministry said one person was killed and 11 were wounded in the blasts.
The top official at the U.N.'s refugee agency said Wednesday that security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months to the extent that foreign staff are unable to travel to half of the country.
The agency has to rely on local staff or Afghan partner organizations to reach tens of thousands of refugees it is trying to aid, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
"There was a worsening security situation in the recent past," he told reporters in Geneva. "Access of our international staff to the territory is now limited to about 50 percent."
Kandahar has seen deadly insurgent violence in weeks, prompting the U.N. to scale down operations there. The looming NATO operation and ongoing crime and insecurity have rattled the region where the Taliban were formed and still have considerable support.
On Wednesday, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said the Kandahar operation will not be a typical military campaign, but will try to "address the complexity of problems we have."
Asked whether the people of Kandahar support the operation, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, "We are working on this."
"Our operation should be the best of its kind," he said. "People must support us, and we should change the lives of the people."
Also Wednesday. floodwaters coursed through several villages while residents slept in western Herat province. At least 20 people were killed and 30 injured, NATO said. Herat's governor said 250 houses were destroyed.
Khan reported from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Associated Press Writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Kabul.