KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Scores of Afghans were killed yesterday in Taliban attacks and other violence, including a NATO airstrike, a reminder of the persistent instability as foreign troops begin their drawdown.

The bloodbath spanned from the insurgents' stronghold in the south to the relatively peaceful north, and to the volatile east. Two U.S. pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed in Ghazni province in the east, a senior U.S. defense official said.

The deadliest assault was in the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, where three suicide bombers turned a dusty marketplace into a gruesome scene of body parts, clothing, glass and other debris.

In eastern Afghanistan, a pre-dawn NATO airstrike targeting militants was said to have killed civilians at a wedding, including women and children, in Baraki Barak district of Logar province. NATO said it did not have any reports that civilians were killed, but had begun to formally assess what happened during the operation conducted by Afghan and coalition forces.

The Taliban appeared to be targeting companies near the Kandahar bomb site that supply a massive military base used by the U.S.-led coalition, about three miles away. Eight of the 22 killed worked for companies that supply equipment to the base. At least 50 others were wounded.

Tens of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have flooded Taliban strongholds in the south, and have largely succeeded in boosting security there. But the Taliban has proven resilient, continuing to conduct suicide attacks to create fear among the public.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the Kandahar attack, saying it proved the "enemy is getting weaker because they are killing innocent people."

"The Taliban continue to kill innocent civilians," the NATO coalition said. "These attacks are clear evidence of the insurgent's total lack of regard for the people and the legitimate government of Afghanistan and must stop."

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's reclusive leader, said in a Muslim holiday message last year that his fighters must protect civilians for the insurgency to maintain good relations with the population.

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