KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A car bomb exploded just outside the police headquarters of a southern Afghanistan city on Sunday, killing at least seven people, officials said.
The blast went off at a parking lot outside the police building in Kandahar, said Faisal Ahmad, a spokesman for the provincial government. Five police officers and two civilians were killed, and least 21 people were wounded, he added.
The blast was large enough that it shattered windows in nearby buildings. It appeared the bomb was in a parked vehicle and was remotely detonated, said Zalmai Ayubi, another government spokesman.
NATO forces helped secure the area as Afghan police carried the wounded to ambulances and loaded the bodies of the dead into the back of a pickup truck. The street outside the building was spattered with blood. A hawker's sheet of cardboard loaded with sunglasses lay abandoned in the road surrounded by charred debris.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Although the international military coalition in Afghanistan has poured resources into Kandahar city and its vicinity in recent years as part of a push to take back insurgent strongholds, the area has remained dangerous and there have been repeated attacks against government installations.
The U.N. reported on Saturday that 2011 was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed as insurgents ratcheted up violence with suicide attacks and roadside bombs. Civilian deaths from military or other pro-government forces decreased slightly.
Afghanistan's largest insurgent movement, the Taliban, said on Sunday the report was "biased."
In an emailed statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid accused the U.N. — as a Western organization — of falsifying the figures.
The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, for his part said the report reflected the effort the international coalition has put into decreasing civilian casualties.
He added that international forces "will continue to do all we can to reduce casualties that affect the Afghan civilian population."
In the north, meanwhile, Afghan police said that an American soldier shot and killed an Afghan guard at a U.S. base, apparently because the American thought the guard was about to attack him.
There have been a growing number of attacks by Afghan soldiers against international forces in Afghanistan in recent years, some the result of arguments and others by insurgent infiltrators. Last month, an Afghan soldier shot and killed four unarmed French troops last month at a base in eastern Afghanistan.
Friday's shooting in Sari Pul province in northern Afghanistan resulted from an unfortunate misunderstanding, said Sayed Jahangir, the deputy police chief for the province.
Afghans guard the outside perimeter of the base and Americans guard inside. Jahangir said that the Afghan guard — a man named Abdul Rahim — wanted to go into the base and started arguing with the American at the door. Rahim did not raise his weapon, but the American thought he was about to do so and fired, Jahangir said.
"Our initial reports show that the American thought he was acting in self defense," Jahangir said. Rahim was a private guard, not an Afghan soldier or policeman, Jahangir said.
U.S. forces were "aware of an incident in northern Afghanistan" and were investigating, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings. He declined to provide further details.