KABUL, Afghanistan -
In an attack that underscored the vulnerability of Afghanistan's struggling security forces, a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform slipped into a police compound and detonated a powerful explosive device yesterday, killing at least 21 officers, authorities said.
The attack in southern Afghanistan also wounded a dozen police officers, according to the Interior Ministry.
During the past two years, Taliban insurgents have increasingly focused their attacks on Afghan security forces rather than the much better-trained, better-armed and better-protected Western troops, who number more than 60,000.
The police are considered a far "softer" target than Afghan national army soldiers, who are often in the company of NATO or U.S. forces. Many police outposts are only lightly defended, with relatively lax security.
Nearly 1,000 police officers were killed last year in insurgent attacks.
A key component of Western strategy in Afghanistan is to hand over greater responsibility to the Afghan police and army, because locally recruited forces have a much better rapport with the populace. American troops carry out much of the training.
But as a result of unrelenting Taliban attacks, the police force, which is considered a key line of defense in remote communities, is demoralized, prone both to desertion and to infiltration by the Taliban.
Yesterday's bombing took place in Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province. The province is part of a swath of southern Afghanistan where the insurgency is at its strongest.
The Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the attack and boasted that its bombers could strike anywhere. The Afghan Defense Ministry said yesterday that three other would-be suicide bombers, already outfitted with explosive-filled vests, had been arrested in Uruzgan, but it did not say when.
The police officers, most of them reservists, were in the midst of an exercise when the attacker managed to make his way into their compound and into the center of a large group, said Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief.