KABUL, Afghanistan - Three international service members and at least 11 civilians died in violence across southern Afghanistan on Friday, including an attack in which a suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew himself up in a bazaar.
Violence has spiked recently in Afghanistan's south as Taliban insurgents step up attacks ahead of a planned major operation by NATO forces to secure the main city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday that insurgents had killed 59 Afghans during the last seven days, 54 in Kandahar. He told NATO ministers that insurgents also wounded 116, including 94 in Kandahar.
Separately, NATO announced Friday that it had opened an alternate supply route to Afghanistan via Russia and central Asia - a critical development that gives the alliance the ability to bypass the ambush-prone main routes through Pakistan. Although Russia offered to open its territory to NATO as a whole, negotiations over transit rights between the alliance and central Asian states took several months.
The development is important because it signals Russian willingness to indirectly support the NATO-led mission. Moscow has warmed to the mission's success in recent years, fearing that a NATO defeat in Afghanistan would cause further problems for Russia.
In Kandahar province Friday, nine civilians, including four women and three children, were killed and eight people were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Maiwand district, said Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. The driver hit the mine when he veered off the road to go around a section that was damaged.
In neighboring Zabul province, a suicide bomber dressed in a burqa detonated his cache of explosives in a shopping area in Shahjoy district, killing two civilians and wounding at least 16, said Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
The U.S. command said the two American service members died in an explosion in southern Afghanistan on Friday, but it did not disclose details because relatives had not yet been notified. NATO said a third service member was also killed, but the nationality was not released.