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Taliban Blamed For Attacks In Afghanistan's North, West

The site of an earlier bomb attack in Herat. Most attacks have previously taken place in Afghanistan's East and South
Afghanistan has seen a series of attacks and clashes in recent days in the normally stable regions near its borders with Turkmenistan and Iran.

Taliban spokesmen are claiming responsibility for separate attacks in Afghanistan's northern Jawzjan Province and western Farah Province that reportedly killed at least 19 people, mostly police.

The attacks mark an alarming change, since the bulk of Taliban operations in Afghanistan have generally been confined to areas along the eastern and southern borders with Pakistan.

Police chief Khalil Aminzada of Jawzjan Province, near the Turkmen border, confirmed that an attack in the Qoshtepa District on March 20 killed nine policemen and a district chief.

Zabihollah Mojahed, identified as a Taliban spokesman, claimed that the district governor, the security command, the intelligence chief, and nine others were "instantly killed" in an the attack on Qoshtepa. Mojahed also said two jeeps were destroyed and a number of weapons seized.

The same day in the Farah Province, bordering Iran, another Taliban attack killed at least nine policemen. Officials said the attack happened in the Posht Rod District when a group of militants attacked the district headquarters, occupied the building for about three hours, and set fire to an adjacent school.

Farah Governor Rohullah Amin told RFE/RL's Afghan Service that the fighting broke out around 1 p.m., and that three police officers were wounded in addition to the nine who died.

That evening, "a suicide attack took place with a police vehicle which was seized by Taliban at the police headquarters of the Dil Aram district, where one policeman was killed and another injured," Amin said. "The acting police chief of the district is also injured slightly."

Governor Amin said six militants were also killed.

Another purported Taliban spokesman, identified as Yusuf Ahmadi, confirmed both the attack on the police station and the suicide attack, saying the later attack killed 13 foreign soldiers and that militants destroyed several tanks and jeeps. No foreign military forces reported any losses in Farah.

Clashes in Afghanistan have usually been limited to areas within 200-300 kilometers from the Pakistani border. The attacks in Jawzjan and Farah may indicate the Taliban have grown more comfortable with operating farther away from their safe havens in Pakistan.

On March 21, a suicide car bomb attack killed five civilians and a policeman at a checkpoint in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

Fighting was also reported in Afghan areas closer to the Pakistani border on March 20. Four Canadian soldiers and an interpreter were killed and nine more Canadian soldiers wounded in two separate attacks near Kandahar.

The increase in violence comes as the United States prepares to send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to join some 75,000 foreign troops already there, about half of whom are U.S. soldiers.

The Dutch commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, General Mart de Kruif, said on March 20 that he expects a spike in violence as more U.S. troops are sent to southern Afghanistan. But he predicted "the situation will change in a positive way within the next year" as the reinforced troops launch an aggressive hunt to neutralize Taliban militants in the region.

RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondents Qadir Habiba in Prague, Sharfudin Satnkzai in Farah, and Alem Rahmanyar in Jawzjan contributed to this report.