KABUL (Reuters) - An eight-year-old Afghan girl was killed when a bag of explosives given to her by Taliban insurgents exploded as she approached a police outpost in southern Afghanistan, the government said Sunday.
"The insurgents handed over a bag with a homemade bomb to an eight-year-old girl and asked her to take it to police forces," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
"As the girl was getting close to the police, it exploded and killed the girl."
There have been occasional cases of insurgents using female bombers -- or more commonly of fighters dressing as women in head-to-toe burqa coverings -- but the use of children had been almost unheard of until recently.
In May, Afghan police paraded four boys, all under 13, they said had been recruited as bombers from their homes in neighboring Pakistan. One of the boys said they had been told they would live through the suicide attacks.
The Taliban later denied they were recruiting children to carry out suicide attacks.
The latest incident took place in the Char Chino district of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan. There were no police casualties.
The death comes as four NATO troops were killed over the past two days, including two Spanish soldiers who died on Sunday after a homemade bomb exploded in western Afghanistan.
A suicide car bomber killed at least 20 people, and possibly as many as 35, in an attack at a hospital in a remote district of the eastern Logar province Saturday that damaged the hospital's maternity ward.
Military and civilian casualties hit record levels in 2010, the most violent year of the war since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
This year is following a similar trend, with violence growing across Afghanistan since the Taliban announced a spring offensive at the beginning of May.
It is also a worrying sign as Afghans prepare to take over security responsibility from NATO-led troops in seven areas across the country next month.
That will coincide with the start in July of a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops. U.S. and NATO troops plan to hand over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, although critics warn the handover date is premature.
(Reporting by Alistair Scrutton and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait and Sugita Katyal)