Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan have killed 19 people and injured many others in a suicide bomb blast followed by a deadly assault on Afghan security forces stationed nearby. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad both the attacks happened in a province, which borders Pakistan.
The attacks occurred in the eastern Nangarhar province, a major drug-producing region in Afghanistan.
Military officials and witnesses say that a suspected Taliban suicide bomber struck a team of tribal elders and police officials who had gathered outside the district administration center for an opium poppy eradication campaign.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force says in a statement the bombing was followed by an attack with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, causing more casualties.
Afghan and U.N. officials say the event proves that drug producers and its traffickers are "inseparably" linked to terrorist forces in Afghanistan.
"What this attack highlights is the nexus between those who are involved in terrorism and those that are also involved in the drug trade, and we call upon the Afghan authorities to take action against perpetrators of this attack," says Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
It is internationally estimated that Afghanistan produced more than 90 percent of the world's opium last year. A large chunk of the illegal Afghan drug production is exported to Western markets through neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan. U.N drug experts say that taxes Taliban militants impose on poppy farmers and narcotics traffickers are helping finance their insurgency.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U.S Marines launched an offensive in the south of the country to drive out militants from a remote town, Garmsir, in the Helmand province, which is considered the world's biggest opium-poppy producing region and a hotbed of insurgent activity.
Taliban-led insurgent attacks have picked up in Afghanistan in recent weeks amid reports the extremist forces plan to step up suicide attacks this year in their bid to overthrow the Afghan government and drive out foreign forces.
On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other top government officials along with foreign diplomats escaped unhurt when Taliban militants attacked a military parade in central Kabul with guns and rockets. At least one person was killed and several others were wounded in that incident.
Foreign military commanders based in Afghanistan say that Taliban insurgents appear to have changed their tactics this year and they have mostly targeted those civilians and aid workers who are helping in the reconstruction efforts.