HERAT, Afghanistan, Nov 20 – A suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck an Afghan town on Friday, killing 12 people in the deadliest attack since President Hamid Karzai got down to the business of a second term.
The attack in the capital of southwestern province Farah came the day after Karzai was sworn in for another five years, pledging to try to bring peace to the nation and take over security from foreign forces in five years.
The Taliban-led insurgency seeking to topple the Western-backed government is at its deadliest in the eight years since US-led troops ousted their regime in Kabul, slowly encroaching into once peaceful parts of the north and west.
The bomber attacked near the home of the provincial governor, damaging nearby buildings in an area where heavy trucks were being loaded with goods travelling from Farah to Herat, officials said.
"The bomber riding on a motorcycle detonated himself at a main square near my working office in my home," provincial governor Rohul Amin Amin told AFP.
"Twelve people, 11 of them civilians and one of them a police officer, were killed," he added.
About 37 other people, mostly civilians, were wounded in the bombing, the officials said. More than a dozen of the wounded were in a "critical condition" meaning the death toll could rise further, the governor said.
Karzai used his inauguration speech in Kabul on Thursday to express hope that Afghan troops would soon be taking the lead for security, allowing the more than 100,000 NATO and US troops to scale back.
"We are determined that within the next five years the Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in ensuring security and stability across the country," he said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also proposed a timetable for a gradual security handover from 2010 but US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it was too soon to set a timeline.
"I think I would rather have those on the ground in Afghanistan make the judgment call about when a province or a district was ready to be turned over, rather than specific dates," Gates told reporters on Thursday.
As Karzai turns his attention towards stitching together a cabinet, the international community and disillusioned Afghans wait to see if he can deliver on his pledges to end corruption and bring peace to his war-ravaged nation.
Karzai won plaudits for his inauguration speech on Thursday from Western officials including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said it was an "important new starting point" as the US-led war stretches into its ninth year.
His Western backers, frustrated after pouring more than 100,000 troops and billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan with little in return, have demanded strong action from Karzai, whose reputation has been tarnished by his fraud-ridden re-election and rampant corruption and mismanagement.
"The future will tell us but I believe we are going in the right direction," Ettore Sequi, the European Union\\\’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told AFP.
"We should encourage him in implementing his programme," he added.
The nature of his election win — with almost a million fake votes cast in his favour — highlighted astounding levels of graft in Afghanistan, now billed by Transparency International as the world\\\’s second most corrupt country.
That in turn led to questions in the United States and NATO countries involved in the war about the value and wisdom of continuing support.
As polls showed popular support for the war plunging, leaders including US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen began browbeating Karzai to prove his worth.