Two bombings Tuesday killed a local legislator and a school principal, the latest of a series of attacks as the top U.S. commander was trying to persuade Congress that NATO is making progress against insurgents.
Gen. David Petraeus was pleading for increased congressional funding as militants assassinated Afghan politicians and bombed security forces in a campaign that could undermine his appeal.
In another move that could hamper the funding of U.S. and international development efforts, the Afghan government ordered all private security companies to disband by March 21 next year. Although expected, Tuesday's announcement was the first time a firm date had been set for their disbandment.
The ministry added that responsibilities for guarding development projects, NATO convoys and facilities would gradually be handed over to a special police unit called the Afghan Public Protection Force.
Private security firms provide protection for a wide range of institutions and businesses in Afghanistan, and Afghan and U.S. officials have said there are about 30,000 to 40,000 armed security guards working in the country _ about 26,000 of them employed by the U.S. military or government.
Many aid and development companies have said they would have to cease operations in volatile provinces in the south and east if they could not use private security guards to protect their workers and projects.
President Hamid Karzai has said the existence of dozens of private security firms undermines the Afghan security forces, creating militias that often flout Afghan laws and regulations.
On Tuesday, provincial council member Malang Malik was killed by a remote controlled bomb as he walked near his home in Laghman province in northeast Afghanistan, said government spokesman Kochai Nasery. The blast also injured a relative of Malik, the former head of the provincial council.
A bomb planted in a school office in neighboring Nangarhar province killed principal Bahram Khail Salehi and wounded another school employee as children arrived for classes, spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
Afghan and international observers say the bombings are part of a sweeping intimidation campaign staged by Afghan militants that has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians this year.
On Monday a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest outside an army recruiting station in Kunduz, killing 35 new volunteers. It was the second time the recruiting station had been bombed in four months.
The Red Cross described a "a dramatic deterioration in the security situation for ordinary Afghans," in a statement issued Tuesday by its Afghanistan office. The Red Cross said that escalating violence against civilians in the first two months of 2011 shuttered clinics, blocked roads and jeopardized health care in conflict areas. The violence is also threatening the Red Cross' ability to operate in the country, according to the statement.
This month the United Nations released a report that counted 2,777 civilians killed in 2010, an increase of 15 percent over 2009. The majority of those deaths, 2,080 people, were civilians killed by "anti-government elements," according to the U.N.
While warning of intensified fighting during the approaching spring, NATO commanders say they are making gains against the Taliban and other rebel groups, especially in southern Afghanistan.
Gen. Petraeus, in prepared remarks to Congress that were leaked before his testimony, claimed that the Taliban's momentum "has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas."