Afghan farmers die in suicide blast

Police say a bomb concealed on a bicycle has killed 17 people in southern Afghanistan.

    Wednesday's attack occurred as officials tried to persuade Afghan farmers not to grow opium [AFP]

    Farmers 'killed'

    The casualties were all farmers who had gathered in the area to receive free seeds from the government as part of a program to encourage them not to plant opium poppy, Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said.

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    Lashkar Gah is near Marjah in Helmand province, the focus of a major Nato-led offensive against the Taliban.

    Thousands of Nato and Afghan troops have launched a massive offensive in southern Afghanistan - the largest the country has seen since the 2001 US-led invasion.

    A major offensive in Kandahar, once a Taliban stronghold, would follow the current military operation in neighbouring Helmand province,which appears to have largely pushed back the Taliban and given the government a chance to take control.

    Marjah is also thought to be the hub of the Taliban-controlled opium trade - which provides them with most of their funding.

    The Afghan defence ministry has said the anti-Taliban push will be led by Afghan security forces as part of plans to hand over military and police responsibility to the Western-backed government.

    The US and Nato have about 113,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan, with another 40,000 being deployed in the coming months.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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