The men were washing up before prayers - among them a prominent Afghan border inspector - and the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.
17 killed in Afghan bathhouse bombing
KABUL // At least 17 people, including a prominent Afghan border inspector, were killed in a blast in a crowded public bathhouse in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, authorities said yesterday.
A suicide bomber struck the bathhouse in Spin Boldak, an Afghan town that borders Pakistan, as men gathered to wash before Friday prayers, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that reportedly targeted Haji Ramzan Aka, the border policeman killed, and wounded 23 people, authorities said.
The attack was reminder of the determination and resilience of anti-government insurgents in the area. While the rest of Kandahar province, largely considered the Taliban's spiritual homeland, is known for suffering frequent insurgent attacks, Spin Boldak had managed to remain a relatively peaceful albeit crooked border town under control of the area's notoriously corrupt border police.
Border patrolmen allied with foreign forces control the smuggling and drug-trafficking rings that use Spin Boldak as a hub for running both goods and opium across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, using cash and patronage networks to thwart large-scale attacks.
The last major suicide bombing in Spin Boldak was roughly three years ago, when an attack on a Canadian military convoy killed 38 Afghan civilians in February 2008.
But yesterday's deadly bombing can be seen as part of a growing trend of violence and insecurity across Afghanistan and particularly in the country's south over the past year, during which foreign forces began taking casualties at the highest rates since the US-led invasion in 2001.
Nato has recently bolstered its forces in the south, but the insurgents have been able to stand their ground there and expand their operations to other parts of Afghanistan once considered relatively safe.
According to a report released last month by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group that tracks insurgent attacks and violence against aid workers in Afghanistan, the counter-offensive being launched by anti-government groups is "increasingly mature, complex and effective", and insurgents are already operating advanced "shadow administrations" in the country's southern provinces.
A US military adviser in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Spin Boldak attack illustrated the ability of the Taliban and affiliated militant networks to launch sophisticated attacks against high-level targets of their choosing.
Nato also announced yesterday that one of its service members was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan.
Afghan security forces have been hit even harder than foreign troops, however. A total of 1,292 Afghan police and 821 Afghan soldiers were killed in 2010, according to figures provided by the Afghan government.
Still, Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting as they become caught up in the crossfire. The United Nations says 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 wounded between January and October last year, a 20 per cent increase since 2009.
With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters