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Police Stop Suicide Bombers Before they Strike in Afghanistan

Police in Afghanistan are said to have killed a group of suicide bombers on Saturday just when they were about to hit targets in an eastern city bordering Pakistan. Four people, including two policemen are reported wounded. The stepped violence comes ahead of next month's presidential election in Afghanistan. But U.S special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, says the Taliban insurgency should not discourage anyone from taking part in the poll.

Witnesses and officials say that a group of seven suicide bombers was involved in the simultaneous attacks on police headquarters and other targets in the eastern city of Khost.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zamary Bashary tells VOA the attackers were also carrying automatic weapons. However, he says, an active Afghan police force was able to prevent the militants from causing serious damage.

"Police of Khost province were able to identify and kill all these seven bombers prior to their arrival to their targets, which shows a change in the capacity of the Afghan national police and a growing capacity in their understanding and in their ability," he said.

Less than a week ago, 13 suspected suicide bombers tried to carry out near simultaneous assaults on government buildings in three neighboring Afghan provinces - Nangarhar, Nimroz and Paktia. But police killed most of them just before the militants tried to blow themselves up. At least eight people, mostly security personnel, were killed in those attacks.

Interior Ministry spokesman Bashary says that militants seem to have changed their tactics in recent days but he says that killing of 20 suicide bombers in less than a week shows the strength and skills of the Afghan national police are also growing.

In recent months, Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks in Afghanistan. In addition to killing dozens of civilians the violence has left at least 66 international troops dead in July, making it the bloodiest month of the nearly eight-year U.S-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

The increased violence comes as thousands of U.S Marines and coalition forces engage in major anti-insurgency operations in southern Afghan provinces, including Helmand, where Taliban fighters have their strongholds. The offensive is part of an effort to improve security in southern Afghanistan ahead of the presidential election on August 20.

Saturday's militant attacks came as visiting U.S special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, discussed election preparations in Kabul with local authorities and commanders of the U.S-led international forces.

Speaking to reporters in the Afghan capital Saturday, Mr. Holbrooke acknowledged that the Afghan election faces "unprecedented and complex challenges. But he hoped poor security will not discourage voters to take part in the poll.

"What do you want the Afghan people to do? To abandon the election because of some threats from a small minority of Taliban? Impossible. So you hold the best election you can under the circumstances. It is not going to be perfect." he said. "But nobody's going to back down in the face of this intimidation and 41 candidates including two women millions of new registered [voters]. That tells a lot about what the people of Afghanistan want."

Holbrooke said that the United States and coalition forces have devised a strategy to help the Afghan authorities ensure the presidential election is safe and secure. He reiterated that the United States does not support or oppose any candidate in the Afghan election and is only supporting democracy in Afghanistan.