A suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a drug-eradication team in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 19 people and injuring more than 40 others, authorities said.
Twelve police officers were among the dead in the assault, the latest in a string of attacks by militants against government teams responsible for destroying the lucrative opium poppy crop during the planting season. The insurgency is fueled with profits from the drug trade.
The seven other people killed were civilians, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The attack was carefully coordinated, with insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades and raking the area with gunfire immediately after the explosion.
The injured included two Australian journalists, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said.
The attack took place in Nangarhar province, outside the provincial capital of Jalalabad. Together with Afghanistan’s south, Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, is a major center of poppy cultivation. Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world’s opium.
“This event proves that . . . cultivation and production of narcotics in Afghanistan are inseparably tied to terrorist forces,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The attack came on the day U.S. Marines newly deployed in Afghanistan’s south began their first major offensive, seeking to seize the town of Garmser in Helmand province, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Assistance Force reported that one of its soldiers had been killed in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan. The dead soldier’s nationality was not specified, but most forces in that area are American.
The Marines in the south encountered little significant resistance as they secured roads leading to Garmser, said a spokeswoman, Capt. Kelly Frushour. She gave no estimate of how long it might take to secure the town.
The Marines were sent to bolster British, Dutch and Canadian forces that have been struggling to contain the insurgency in the south, the Taliban’s former heartland.
Elsewhere, Afghanistan’s chief of intelligence acknowledged to lawmakers that the security services had received a warning about a weekend assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai.
The Afghan leader escaped unharmed, but three other people, including a member of parliament, were killed in a hail of gunfire. The brazen attack on a ceremony in downtown Kabul, the capital, deepened many ordinary citizens’ security fears. Violence has claimed about 1,000 lives this year.
The intelligence official, Amrullah Saleh, told a session of parliament that security services had “technical information” that insurgents had plotted for more than a month to attack the ceremony, which commemorated the victory of Afghan mujahedin over the Soviet army in the 1980s.
Even before Saleh’s disclosure, the intelligence and security services had been under heavy criticism for failing to prevent the attack.
The ceremony was attended by dozens of dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador William Wood.
Although the president was uninjured, the attack raised questions about the fitness of the Afghan police and military to assume responsibility for security in Kabul at some point, as Karzai has said he wants them to do.
Times special correspondent Faiez reported from Kabul and Times staff writer King from Istanbul, Turkey.