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Afghan Blast Kills Two, Wounds 26

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- A bomb planted in a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan's most dangerous province has killed two people and wounded at least 26, provincial officials said.

The blast took place near a dog fighting match, a traditional pastime where groups of men congregate, in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, said Kamaluddin, a senior provincial police officer who goes only by one name.

Earlier, Ahmad Nabi, another senior police official at the scene of the blast, told Reuters two people had been killed and 12 others, including children, were wounded.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. U.S. and British troops in the province are gearing up for a major offensive on the western outskirts of Lashkar Gah.

Last year was the deadliest year for both Afghan civilians and foreign troops. Some 2,400 civilians were killed in 2009 as a result of Taliban attacks and Afghan and Western forces operations, according to the United Nations.

More than twice as many U.S. and British troops died in 2009 compared to the previous year.

While Taliban insurgents normally target Afghan and foreign troops with suicide and roadside bombs in an attempt to overthrow the government and drive international troops out of the country, most of the victims are ordinary Afghans.

There are some 115,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan battling a strengthening Taliban insurgency and Washington has begun sending 30,000 more in a bid to turn the tide.