Insurgents took aim Sunday at the Afghan security forces, ambushing an army bus in the capital, Kabul, and storming an army recruitment center in the north of the country. At least 14 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed in the two attacks, each carried out by squads of suicide bombers and gunmen.
The Afghan police and army are considered key to the West's exit strategy, which calls for Afghan forces to take over security responsibilities across the country in the next three years. That plan was endorsed at a NATO conference last month and again last week in a White House assessment of the long-running Afghan conflict.
The Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the twin assaults and warned that it would continue targeting Afghan forces as well as Western troops. This year has been the deadliest of the 9-year-old war for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force, which on Sunday announced the death of another service member, whose nationality was not immediately disclosed, in an explosion in southern Afghanistan.
The Afghan government denounced Sunday's strikes, saying in a statement they were carried out by "enemies who do not want our security forces to be able to strengthen themselves."
The attack on the army bus in Kabul took place during morning rush hour on a heavily traveled road, sending motorists and passersby scrambling for cover. "Everyone was trying to hide," said Shah Mohammad, whose nearby house had its windows blown out when one of the attackers blew himself up.
The Defense Ministry said five soldiers were killed in the strike, which was the most lethal attack in the capital in seven months and a worrying sign of insurgents' continued ability to smuggle weapons and fighters into Kabul despite heightened security in and around the city.
The army recruiting center that was targeted in the other attack is in Kunduz, a once-peaceful northern city that has been the focus of sharply intensified insurgent activity over the course of the last year. That attack, which also began in the early morning, set off a battle that continued for hours, heavily damaging homes and other buildings.
Four soldiers and five police officers were killed, according to Mahboobullah Saeedi, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor's office, and more than a dozen people, including some civilians, were injured.