Image: Smoke rises from the area where three Ta
Pajhwok Afghan News  /  AFP - Getty Images
Smoke rises from the area where three Taliban suicide bombers burst into a branch of Kabul Bank and detonated devices on Saturday.
NBC News and news services
updated 2/19/2011 10:44:39 AM ET 2011-02-19T15:44:39

Gunmen detonated explosives in front of a bank and then stormed the building in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing several people and injuring scores of others, officials said.

At least nine had died in the attack; 70 others were injured, NBC News reported.

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A doctor at the city's main hospital said dozens were injured in the attack on the Kabul Bank branch in the city, including civilians, police and Afghan army soldiers. The injuries were caused both by flying shrapnel and gunshots, Dr. Saif ul-Rahman said.

"A number of the injured are in very serious condition," he said. It was not clear whether any of the attackers escaped.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack in a statement that provided details of the fatalities. His office said three suicide bombers took part in the raid.

Kabul Bank handles payrolls for many of Afghanistan's police and soldiers.

NATO has been working to recruit and train Afghan security forces in greater numbers as they prepare to take the lead in securing the country. The goal is to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan's security to local forces by 2014.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the group, Zabiullah Mujahid, said militants targeted Afghan forces who were at the branch to collect their pay.

A pair of blasts in Jalalabad earlier this month killed a civilian and wounded six police officers.

'Region with tensions'
In the capital Kabul, Karzai called for Afghans to have the final say in whether the U.S. should be allowed to maintain a long-term military presence in the country — even as America's top diplomat insisted that the U.S. does not seek permanent bases in the country.

Discussion of permanent bases resurfaced in recent weeks after a leading U.S. senator proposed their establishment last month. Karzai's stance reflects a desire to assert greater control over the country's future as U.S. troops prepare to begin drawing down this year.

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Speaking in response to a question at a press conference, Karzai said a number of American officials have raised the issue of establishing permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan as part of broader negotiations on a long-term security partnership. He didn't say whether any formal requests had been made.

The Afghan people should have the final say on any bases, Karzai said, adding that the decision would need to take into consideration the concerns of Afghanistan's neighbors, which include Iran, Pakistan and China.

"The view of our neighboring countries is very important," Karzai said. "We are not living on an island ... Not only do we have neighbors, but they are big countries in the region. We are living in a region with tensions."

Matter of military bases
Lindsay Graham, a Republican senator from the state of South Carolina, said in January that having a few U.S. air bases in Afghanistan would give Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban and benefit the region. He said he wanted the U.S. to have "an enduring relationship" with Afghanistan to ensure it never falls back into militant hands.

The Taliban criticized the proposal, saying allowing permanent bases would be tantamount to a permanent occupation.

In a speech Friday in New York, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear the United States does not seek to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan.

"The United States will always maintain the capability to protect our people and our interests. But in no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people," Clinton said, according to a text of her prepared remarks to the Asia Society.

"We respect Afghans' proud history of resistance to foreign occupation, and we do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country or a presence that would be a threat to any of Afghanistan's neighbors," she said.

___

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed reporting.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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