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Suicide Blast Kills Nine Afghans Including Commander

Afghans inspect the site of a bomb blast in Khost Province on January 6.
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber has struck a crowded market in restive southeast Afghanistan, killing nine people including a senior Afghan commander, while another blast hit a neighboring province's governor's office.

The two attacks took place in Paktia Province and isolated neighboring Khost, where seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed by a suicide bomber last week in the deadliest strike against the U.S. spy agency in decades.

The attacks may signal a deterioration in security in the southeastern area.

In a third attack, also in Khost today, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside a base of Western troops and Afghan police, but caused no casualties.

The Afghan National Department of Security said its members killed five militants, including two would-be suicide bombers, in a separate clash outside Khost's provincial capital.

Paktia and Khost have seen an aggressive insurgency by fighters loyal to Taliban-allied commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who U.S. forces believe operates out of the lawless neighboring Pakistani region of North Waziristan.

A rare mild winter has allowed the Taliban to step up their attacks in recent weeks. Winter is traditionally a quiet period for war in Afghanistan.

A security commander allied to foreign troops and three of his bodyguards were among the nine killed in the suicide attack in Gardez, capital of Paktia, said provincial police chief Aziz Ahmad Wardak.

Twenty-eight people were wounded, including two border police officials, he said.

The apparent targets of the attack were the Afghan security officials allied to foreign troops, said a spokesman for the provincial governor, Rohullah Samoon.

The acting governor of Khost, Tahir Khan Sabri, and several provincial officials were wounded by a blast in Sabri's heavily-guarded office, a possible sign of the insurgents' increasing ability to penetrate areas seen as secure.

In a statement on a Taliban website, the militants claimed responsibility for that strike.

Last week's attack on the CIA at a Khost base by an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Jordanian double agent raised concern Haqqani's Pakistan-based Afghan militants could be working more closely with foreign Al-Qaeda operatives.

More than eight years since their ouster by U.S.-backed Afghan troops, the Taliban have made a comeback in recent years, making 2009 the bloodiest year of the war.

In the capital Kabul, four members of a family were wounded overnight when one of three rockets fired by the militants hit a residential area on the southern outskirts, a senior police officer said today. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The worsening violence comes despite the increasing number of foreign troops, now standing at more than 110,000.

To turn the tide, President Barack Obama has begun sending 30,000 more U.S. troops, while saying they will start to pull out in mid-2011.

Western diplomats and Afghan officials are due to meet in London on Jan. 27 for a conference to discuss Afghanistan's future and bolster the Afghan government so Western forces can eventually leave.

The country has been mired in political uncertainty since a fraud-tainted poll in August in which President Hamid Karzai was eventually declared the winner after months of dispute.

Parliament refused to ratify more than two-thirds of Karzai's cabinet nominations last week, prolonging the confusion. He is expected to name replacement ministers in the next few days.