A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed at least 10 people, including three American soldiers, outside a park in a relatively peaceful area of northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, part of an increase in violence at the start of the spring fighting season.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, are targeting Afghan and NATO security forces as they fight to assert their power and undermine U.S. efforts to try to build up the Afghan military, which is expected to take the lead in combat responsibility over the next couple of years.
Shortly before noon, the bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the park in Maimanah, capital of Faryab province, police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmad Zai said. His target was unclear, but Zai said that four of the 10 killed were Afghan police officers. At least 20 people were wounded, officials said.
In Kabul, NATO said that three of its service members were killed in a bombing Wednesday in northern Afghanistan. It provided no other details about the attack or the nationalities of the three.
A senior U.S. defense official, however, confirmed that three were American troops killed in the Faryab bombing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Norway and Germany, which command alliance operations in northern Afghanistan, said that none of their troops were involved. Troops of other nationalities also serve in the area -- most of them at a Norwegian base that works on partnering with Afghan troops so that they can eventually take control of security in the region.
Associated Press video footage of the scene of the attack shows what appear to be dead Afghan civilians, police and foreign troops. Body parts are strewn around the gate and on the ground, which is spattered with blood.
In a statement on their website, the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for killing 16 coalition troops and 12 Afghans in the Faryab suicide attack.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt among coalition forces in Maimanah as they were traveling to a park. He added that eyewitnesses said that the coalition troops indiscriminately fired their weapons, killing a civilian and wounding others. That report could not be confirmed.
Faryab is relatively calm but is a stronghold of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, an al-Qaida affiliate that has been most active in Afghanistan's northern provinces.
Fighting in Afghanistan usually wanes during the winter months as Taliban fighters take a break because of severe weather, only to surge in the spring.
Heavy snow covers many of the mountain passes used by the Taliban and other insurgent fighters to cross mainly into eastern Afghanistan from safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
So far this year, 97 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan, including at least 55 Americans.