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Suicide Bombers And Gunmen Attack East Afghan City

July has been the deadliest month of the war for Western forces
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Up to seven suicide bombers attacked government buildings in the east Afghanistan city of Khost on July 25, security officials said, but there appeared to be relatively few casualties.

The U.S. military said it had heard reports of suicide bombers in Khost but Afghan security had brought the attack under control. Afghan and U.S. forces are battling a growing Taliban-led insurgency in the east.

Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said a car packed with explosives had been detonated in Khost, near the Pakistan border, followed by three suicide bombers. Lengthy gunbattles then erupted.

Khost provincial police chief Abdul Qayum Baqizoy said suicide bombers had attacked two government buildings, wounding three civilians and a police officer.

Salahuddin Ayubi, a spokesman for the Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Haqqani network, said a suicide car bomber had attacked a district government building in the city, blowing open the gates to allow gunmen and bombers to enter.

He said they had inflicted "heavy casualties."

A Reuters reporter in the city heard at least two blasts.

The Haqqani network has mounted similar attacks against Afghan government and U.S. military targets in the past.

Four Taliban suicide bombers attacked Khost in May, killing at least six people, and gunmen laid siege to government buildings before they were overpowered.

Brazen Attacks

The attacks followed a similarly brazen pattern to assaults by Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers, some dressed as women, on the eastern city of Gardez in neighbouring Paktia province on July 21. Nine people were killed there.

Violence this year has reached its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

Attacks across the country have escalated since thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched major new offensives in the southern province of Helmand this month.

The offensives are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its militant Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan.

But July has since become the deadliest month of the 8-year war for U.S., British and other foreign forces in Afghanistan.

A British soldier was killed by an explosion in Helmand on July 25, the Ministry of Defense in London said, the 20th to be killed this month.

The soldier's death was announced the day after the British government said it would send 125 more troops to Afghanistan to replace soldiers killed and wounded and keep Britain's force level at just over 9,000.

London has already boosted the number of British troops by 700 to help secure the August 20 presidential election. British commanders have said those 700 may have to stay longer.

A U.S. soldier was killed in the east on July 24, the U.S. military said without giving further details. At least 32 U.S. troops have been killed in combat so far in July.

In Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban adjoining Helmand, three Afghan security force members were killed and three wounded after they mistakenly fired on a joint patrol of Afghan and foreign troops on July 24 and the patrol returned fire, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Robert Carr said.