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Suicide bomber kills 20 people in Afghanistan

KABUL - A suicide bomber killed 20 people, including three children, yesterday in a market in central Afghanistan in the deadliest attack against Afghan civilians in more than three months.

Suicide bombings and other attacks have become the No. 1 killer of Afghan civilians in the intensifying war between U.S.-led forces and the Taliban. A United Nations report released this week found that the number of Afghan civilians killed in war-related violence rose last year to its highest level of the 8-year-old war - with nearly 70 percent of the deaths blamed on the Taliban and their allies.

Attacks against purely civilian targets are less common in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where most of the violence is between rival Islamic religious communities. The UN report said most of the 2,412 Afghan civilians killed last year were caught up in fighting between militants and NATO troops.

Yesterday's attacker detonated his explosives in front of a currency exchange shop in an arcade of stores in Dihrawud in Uruzgan province, a mostly ethnic Pashtun area about 250 miles southwest of Kabul. Thirteen people were wounded, according to a NATO statement.

District police chief Omar Khan said the attacker may have been headed for a regular security meeting of NATO and dozens of tribal elders. Khan, who was at the meeting, could not explain why the bomber detonated his explosives before reaching the heavily guarded venue.

Khan said 15 bodies were recovered at the blast site, but residents told police that remains of five more victims had been taken away for burial.

NATO troops from the nearby Forward Operating Base Hadrian responded to the blast and found a large amount of opium near the scene, the alliance said in a statement.

It was the deadliest attack against civilians since Sept. 29, when a bomb struck a crowded bus on the outskirts of the city of Kandahar, killing 30 passengers.

Also yesterday, an American service member was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. It was the fifth death suffered by U.S. forces in the past two days.

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