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Afghan violence leaves 27 dead
( 2004-01-08 08:42) (Agencies)

U.S. forces scoured a town near the Pakistani border overnight for suspects in the bombing that killed 15 Afghan civilians, most of them children, a military spokesman said.

The U.S. search operation was focused on Spin Boldak, a town between Kandahar, the southern Afghan city where Tuesday's deadly blast occurred, and the Pakistani frontier, military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty told The Associated Press Wednesday.

"Coalition forces were pursuing suspects thought to be involved in Tuesday's attack," Hilferty said in an e-mail.

The U.S. military has blamed Taliban militants for the bombing, but Hilferty gave no further details.

The time bomb, hidden in an apple cart on a Kandahar street teeming with children, and a roadway shooting in neighboring Helmand province hours later left a total of 27 dead Tuesday in southern Afghanistan.

Officials said the shooting was carried out by gunmen who stopped two cars Tuesday evening and opened fire, killing 12 men.

The violence -- two years after the fall of the brutal Taliban regime -- underlines the failure of the national government and its foreign backers to bring security to Afghans weary after nearly a quarter-century of conflict.

An official in Spin Boldak said over 100 U.S. soldiers sealed off the district government offices late Tuesday.

The soldiers searched every room, but found no suspects, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Taliban spokesman, Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, said the man American forces were seeking was the militia's local commander, Amin Sahib Zada, but he was not in the area.

"He is quite safe," Latifi told AP by satellite telephone.

It was not clear who carried out the roadway shooting in Helmand, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Kabul.

Provincial governor Mohammed Wali Alizai told the Associated Press the victims were all ethnic Hazaras in an area that is predominantly ethnic Pashtuns, and suggested the assailants wanted to stir ethnic tensions.

Shootings and bomb attacks have become more common in southern and eastern Afghanistan in past months. The Taliban has taken responsibility for many of them.

The violence threatens the timetable for the national elections slated for June, and has all but halted reconstruction in a large area along the Pakistani border.

On Monday, gunmen attacked the office of the United Nations refugee agency in Kandahar, throwing a grenade and firing shots but causing no injuries.

Exactly a month ago, a bomb ripped through a bustling bazaar in the city, wounding 20 Afghans, in an attack the Taliban said targeted -- but missed -- U.S. soldiers.

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