A group of suicide bombers attacked several government buildings in central Afghanistan Thursday, killing at least 19 people and wounding 37 others in one of the deadliest attacks to hit the country in recent months.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the coordinated attack in Tarin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. The group said it used a team of six suicide bombers to strike at the governor's house, police headquarters and the base of a militia commander who provides security to NATO convoys.
The initial explosions were followed by heavy gun battles between militants and Afghan security forces and guards. A NATO spokesman said the international coalition sent reinforcements, including air support, to help the Afghan forces repel the assault.
The coalition joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Ministry of Interior in condemning the attacks, saying "innocent Afghans lost their lives because insurgents have a despicable, complete disregard for human life."
Thursday's violence is the latest setback to security in southern Afghanistan, coming after a series of high-profile assassinations of key allies of President Hamid Karzai.
On Wednesday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed the mayor of Kandahar city. His death follows last week's targeted killing in Kabul of a senior advisor to President Karzai. Earlier this month in Kandahar, a trusted bodyguard shot and killed President Karzai's half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai.
In other violence Thursday, a NATO service member was killed in a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan. The nationality of the soldier was not released.
Throughout the violence, the international coalition has pressed ahead with transferring security control in the first seven areas of Afghanistan to Afghan forces.
About 33,000 American troops are set to leave Afghanistan by September of 2012 with all foreign combat troops scheduled to exit the war-torn country by the end of 2014.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.