A series of blasts killed at least two civilians and wounded several others Saturday in Afghanistan's main southern city, the scene of several recent deadly attacks on police.
Helicopters patrolled above the city as NATO and Afghan troops were deployed to seal off the attack sites. Ambulances with sirens wailing ferried victims to local hospitals.
In one attack, a motorized rickshaw carrying explosives detonated behind police headquarters in the center of the city, said Zelmai Ayubi, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province. One bystander was killed and three others wounded, Ayubi said.
On the eastern side of the city, insurgents attacked an oil tanker with gunfire, causing it to explode. One civilian was killed and at least two others were wounded.
A rocket fired by militants slammed into a prison compound in the city's west, police said. No casualties were immediately reported. Another explosion went off in the city's business district, also in the west. Details were not immediately available.
Kandahar city has been a target for militants this month. Two explosions killed nine people and wounded two dozen others on Oct. 6. Three blasts just minutes apart killed three Afghan police officers in the city Oct. 5.
International and Afghan troops have been ramping up security in Kandahar city for months in an effort to grasp control of the country's largest southern city, where Taliban influence is high. A series of checkpoints have been set up around the city in an attempt to keep insurgents from entering and carrying out attacks.
Control of Kandahar, the Taliban movement's birthplace, is seen as key to reversing Taliban momentum in the war. The nearly 150,000 international troops and 220,000 Afghan security forces are still struggling to gain the upper hand against an estimated 30,000 insurgents.
The embattled south is the scene of Operation Dragon Strike, launched last month by NATO and Afghan forces in areas around Kandahar to flush out entrenched Taliban fighters and destroy their strongholds.
Separately, two NATO service members were killed Saturday _ one after a homemade bomb exploded in the south and one in an insurgent attack in the north. NATO did not disclose their nationalities or details of their deaths. Forty-six U.S. and international troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month.
The nine-year war has also inflicted a mounting toll on Afghan civilians who are caught in the crossfire.
In the Afghan capital, just a few weeks after breaking down in tears while talking about his son's future in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said he had high hopes for a new peace council to negotiate with Taliban leaders he's been meeting, according to a statement released Saturday by his office.
The president's comments echoed a drumbeat of optimism being voiced by U.S. and NATO military officials and the head of the peace council, who said he is convinced the insurgents are ready to negotiate.
It's unclear whether there is enough evidence to support claims that the U.S. and international forces are reversing the Taliban's momentum. NATO military officials said troops are engaged in fierce fighting and it's premature to declare that the tide of the war has turned against the insurgents.
Still, with President Barack Obama's December review just weeks away, political pressure is mounting to show progress. Obama administration officials this week threw their support behind the 70-member peace council that is charged with setting up a formal dialogue with insurgents, following informal discussions that Karzai has had with Taliban leaders.
"I have had personal meetings with some Taliban leaders, and my colleagues from my government have had some meetings in and outside Afghanistan with the Taliban," he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera's David Frost, according to the statement released by his office.
"These have mostly been unofficial after contact was initiated _ countryman-to-countryman talks," he said. "But now is the time for us to begin to talk with the Taliban at a fixed address and with a more open agenda to tell us how to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan."
In the interview, aired Friday, Karzai said the formation of the peace council was an important step toward finding an end to the 9-year-old war, the statement said.
The Taliban, which has denied that its leaders are in talks, has long said it will not come to the negotiating table until after U.S. and NATO troops leave the country.
In the interview, Karzai said U.S.-Afghan relations were strong. He sought to reassure Afghans that there would not be a mass exodus of U.S. troops in July 2011, when Obama wants to begin to withdraw American forces if conditions allow.
"July 2011 was never the date of the end of mission of the international troops in Afghanistan," Karzai said, according to the statement.
An upbeat Karzai said it makes him happy to see the flag of Afghanistan flying along with banners of other nations. He said he also finds joy in hearing the sound of school bells. He pledged to work to improve the country's educational system.
During a Sept. 29 speech on literacy, Karzai lamented how violence was keeping children home from school and expressed concern that Afghanistan's youth would seek education abroad, leaving them estranged from Afghanistan.
"I don't want my son, Mirwais, to be a foreigner," a tearful Karzai said about his 4-year-old son. "I want Mirwais to be Afghan."
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Robert Kennedy in Kabul contributed to this report.