Six civilians and three police officers died when a roadside bomb exploded on a highway in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, an official told Efe on Monday.

The blast took place on Sunday in the Shahkhoi district as the vehicle carrying a police major was passing by, the province's deputy governor, Mohammed Jan Rasolyar, said.

Rasolyar said the major was named Mukhahid, adding that he was the second-in-command of the local police.

The deputy governor added that the explosion occurred in a very populated area and that in addition to the six civilian fatalities another 12 people in the vicinity - "among whom are women and children" - were wounded.

Rasolyar blamed the Taliban insurgents for the blast.

The new attack came as international forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan in accord with a schedule that should conclude in 2014, when local troops will take over security for the entire country.

The process has not, however, halted Taliban attacks, something that makes those in political and diplomatic circles uneasy given that it appears to bode ill for the country's future. EFE