KABUL // Militants staged two deadly suicide attacks yesterday to mark the first full day of the US defence secretary's visit to Afghanistan.
The attacks were a fresh reminder that insurgents continue to fight and challenges remain as the US-led Nato force hands over the country's security to the Afghans.
A suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan defence ministry early yesterday morning, and about a half-hour later, another suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Khost city, the capital of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.
Nine people were killed in the bombing at the ministry, and an Afghan policeman and eight civilians, who were mostly children, died in the blast in Khost, said Baryalai Wakman, a provincial spokesman.
"This attack was a message to him," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said of Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary.
Mr Hagel was nowhere near the blasts, but heard them across the city. He told reporters travelling with him that he was not sure what it was when he heard the explosion.
"We're in a war zone. I've been in war, so shouldn't be surprised when a bomb goes off or there's an explosion," said Mr Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Asked what his message to the Taliban would be, he said that the US was going to continue to work with its allies to insure that the Afghan people had the ability to develop their own country and democracy.
* Associated Press