Local men were washing ahead of midday Friday prayers when the blast ripped through the building in the heart of Spin Boldak, a town near the Pakistani border. Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, the Taliban's spokesman in the south, told The Associated Press the target of the attack was the deputy commander of border patrol police in Kandahar province.
Border police Gen. Abdul Raziq told the BBC that an officer named only Ramazan had died in the bombing. The BBC added that the policeman always used the bathhouse ahead of Friday prayers -- the most important weekly service for Muslims.
Zalmai Ayoubi, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, told Reuters the other casualties were all civilians. "This brutal and inhumane act was the work of the enemies of Islam and humanity," he said.
Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa condemned the attack, telling the AP, "Such actions by insurgents show that they are neither the friends of this land nor the Afghan people."
Today's suicide bombing was the deadliest attack of the new year and comes after the end of the bloodiest year of the war since 2001. Last year, a record 711 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan -- according to the monitoring website iCasualties.org -- compared with 521 in 2009. Afghan security forces bore even heavier losses: 1,292 Afghan police and 821 Afghan soldiers were killed in 2010, according to the Afghan government.
But Afghan civilians -- who are frequently caught in the crossfire during battles between Taliban and NATO troops, and are sometimes deliberately targeted by militants -- have paid the highest price. The United Nations has reported that 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 wounded in the first 10 months of 2010, a 20 percent increase from 2009.
Both the U.S. and Afghanistan have called on the Pakistani government and military to crack down harder on the militants, saying they are a threat to Afghanistan's and Pakistan's safety -- a point highlighted this week by the assassination of secular politician Salman Taseer by an Islamic extremist in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.
U.S. drones carried out an attack on another Taliban stronghold in Pakistan today. Agence France-Presse reports that unmanned aerial vehicles launched a barrage of missiles at a motorbike and a house in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district, killing at least five militants.