KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban insurgents marked the start of their spring offensive on Sunday by claiming responsibility for a remote-controlled roadside bomb blast that killed three police officers.
In past years, spring has marked a significant upsurge in fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces along with their local allies. This fighting season is a key test, as the international coalition is scheduled to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces next year.
In Sunday's attack in Ghazni province in southern Afghanistan, a bomb exploded under police vehicles traveling to the district of Zana Khan to take part in a military operation against insurgents, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the province's deputy governor, told The Associated Press.
He said the blast destroyed the vehicle carrying Col. Mohammad Hussain, the deputy provincial police chief, killing him and two other officers. Ahmadi said two officers also were wounded in the insurgent operation, which he said clearly targeted Hussain.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility in an email sent to news media. He called the bombing the first attack in the Taliban spring offensive.
April already has been the deadliest month this year for attacks across the country, where Afghan security forces are increasingly taking the lead on the battlefield in the war that has lasted more than 11 years.
Insurgents have escalated attacks recently in a bid to gain power and influence ahead of next year's presidential election and the planned withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. U.S.-backed efforts to try to reconcile the Islamic militant movement with the Afghan government are gaining little traction.
The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, said a coalition plane that crashed on Saturday in southern Afghanistan, killing four U.S. service members, was a twin-engine turboprop plane used to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
It crashed in Zabul province, about 110 miles northeast of Kandahar Air Field, the Air Force statement said Sunday.
The four Air Force service members were assigned to the air field, the statement said. Their bodies were recovered. The cause of the crash is under investigation, but NATO has said initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity in the area where the plane went down
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 Americans. A top priority of the U.S. force, which is slated to drop to about 32,000 by February 2014, is boosting the strength and confidence of Afghan forces. The insurgents said their forces planned to infiltrate enemy ranks to conduct "insider attacks" and target military and diplomatic sites with suicide bombers.
U.S. Toll in Afghanistan
Source: Department of Defense