U.S. soldiers stand guard Feb. 27 at the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP)
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents poisoned then shot and killed 17 people as they slept at a local police post in eastern Afghanistan, one of two attacks in as many days targeting Afghan security forces, an official said Wednesday.
It's unclear how the militants were able to drug people inside the post before firing bullets into their incapacitated bodies Tuesday night, said Abdul Jamhe Jamhe, a government official in Ghazni province.
Ten members of the Afghan Local Police, a village-level defense force backed by the U.S. military and Afghan government, and seven of their civilian friends died in the attack, said Provincial Gov. Musa Khan Akbarzada. He said there was a conspiracy of some sort but declined to confirm if poison was involved.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in Andar district. He told The Associated Press by telephone that the attackers fatally shot the men in their sleep but denied they had been poisoned.
Residents of Andar took up arms last spring and chased out insurgents. The villagers don't readily embrace any outside authority, be it the Taliban, the Afghan government or the U.S.-led NATO military coalition.
The lightly trained village defense force, which is overseen by the Interior Ministry, is tasked with helping bring security to remote areas. But President Hamid Karzai has expressed concern that without careful vetting, the program could end up arming local troublemakers, strongmen or criminals.
In other violence, a suicide bomber slid under a bus full of Afghan soldiers and blew himself up in Kabul, wounding 10 in an attack that underscored the insurgency's ability to attack in the heavily guarded capital. Kabul police said at least six soldiers and four civilians were wounded. The suicide attacker died.
The bomber, wearing a black overcoat, approached the bus purposefully in heavy morning snow as soldiers were boarding, set down his umbrella and went under the chassis as if to fix something, according to a witness. Watching from across the street, office worker Ahmad Shakib said he thought for a moment the man might have been a mechanic.
"I thought to myself, what is this crazy man doing? And then there was a blast and flames" that engulfed the undercarriage, he said. "It was a very loud explosion. I still cannot really hear."
Bakery owner Mirza Khan said the blast shattered the windows of his nearby shop where people were waiting to buy bread, leaving six wounded.
The Afghan government uses buses to ferry soldiers, police and office workers into the city center on regular routes for work, and the vehicles have been a common target for insurgents.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, also claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing.
The attack occurred three days after a would-be car bomber was shot dead by police in downtown Kabul. That assailant was driving a vehicle packed with explosives, and officials said he appeared to be targeting an intelligence agency office.
It also comes as the U.S.-led military coalition in the country is backing off from its claim that Taliban attacks dropped in 2012, tacitly acknowledging a hole in its widely repeated argument that violence is easing and that the insurgency is in steep decline.
Some 100,000 international troops are helping secure Afghanistan at the moment, but most, including many of the 66,000 Americans, are expected to finish their withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Also on Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan met with Karzai to discuss abuse allegations against American special forces and Afghan troops linked to them in the strategic eastern Wardak province.
The allegations led Karzai to issue an order on Sunday calling for U.S. special forces to be expelled from the province within two weeks despite fears that the move would leave the restive area and the neighboring Afghan capital more vulnerable to al-Qaida and other insurgents.
Karzai and Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of all U.S. and allied forces, discussed the issue and agreed to work together to address the security concerns of the people of Wardak, a coalition statement said.
Wednesday's meeting came a day after hundreds of Wardak residents converged on the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr to call on Karzai to implement his decision as soon as possible.
"The people are really angry about the actions of both the U.S. special forces and the Afghans working with them," provincial government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, adding that the protesters threatened to stage larger demonstrations if the elite troops aren't gone by the deadline.