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Suicide Bomber Kills 18 in Southern Afghanistan

It was another violent day in Afghanistan, where Taleban insurgents are pressing their attack against the country's democratically elected government and the international forces protecting it. A suicide bomber killed at least 18 people in Southern Afghanistan, and a second attack south of the capital, Kabul, killed another two.

Officials say the larger attack occurred Tuesday morning at the governor's compound in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zamarai Bashary says local police apparently managed to stop the bomber outside the compound during a routine security check.

"This suicide bombing happened when the police forces were inspecting people, and the guy who had tied explosives on his body suddenly exploded himself," said Bashary.

He says the explosion killed at least 18 people, including police and civilians.

This is the first week of the Muslim holy month Ramadan, and among those killed were a number of local pilgrims beginning their trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

Officials say the province's governor, Mohammed Daoud Safi, was inside during the attack and escaped injury.

Helmand is part of the Taleban's traditional stronghold in Southern Afghanistan. Despite a major counter-offensive launched by NATO forces last month, local officials say the insurgents remain a powerful presence throughout the region.

But their attacks are by no means limited to the south. A NATO military convoy was attacked outside Kabul, also on Tuesday, killing an Italian soldier and a young Afghan child.

NATO spokesman Major Luke Knittig says an improvised explosive device hit the vehicle just before eight o'clock Tuesday morning.

"That blast did kill an ISAF soldier and a local child and injured several others at the scene," said Major Knittig. "We used air and ground medical evacuations to treat those injured, and our mission continues despite this sad start to the day."

The Western alliance currently has about 20,000 troops in the country. However, NATO officials say reinforcements may be needed to help defeat the resurgent Taleban threat.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also pushing for greater international support amid the growing violence. Mr. Karzai is currently in the United States for a series of meetings with U.S. leaders, including President George Bush.

The two are due to hold joint talks with Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, at the White House on Wednesday.

Speaking to the United Nations last week, Mr. Karzai said the Taleban would not be defeated inside Afghanistan until their sanctuaries outside the country were also eliminated.

Both Afghan and U.S. officials say insurgents are using bases in Pakistan to stage their attacks.

President Bush this week praised both leaders for their efforts in combating terrorism.