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The New York Times, August 19, 2011

Insurgent Attacks Taking Toll on Afghan Civilians

The Taliban said the suicide bomber was a 70-year-old man and claimed that the blast killed 27 foreign soldiers on the largely American base

By Rod Nordland

A series of attacks by insurgents in recent days killed numerous civilians, but for the most part failed against military targets.

As many as 24 civilians were killed and eight wounded on Thursday morning when two mines planted on a road in western Herat Province exploded, Afghan officials said.

And an attack Friday morning rattled a residential neighborhood of Kabul, where militants set off twin blasts, killing at least four people, Afghan officials said. A gunfight broke out and shooting continued into the morning.

A Taliban spokesman said in a text message sent to reporters that multiple suicide bombers had attacked a foreign guesthouse in the Karte Parwan area of the capital, which is home to a number of high-profile potential targets, including the palatial residence of Vice President Mohammamad Qasim Fahim and the old British Consulate.

“We are continuing clearing operations,” an Afghan official said. Friday is the day Afghans celebrate their independence from Britain in 1919. In an Independence Day message sent by e-mail on Thursday, the Taliban spokesman had urged people to continue fighting to expel American invaders and their allies.

A boy was among the injured when a mine exploded Thursday
A boy was among the injured when a mine exploded Thursday. As many as 24 people died in two explosions on the same road. (Photo: Aref Karimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

On Thursday morning, a suicide bomber in a car filled with explosives tried to break through the gates of Forward Operating Base Gardez in eastern Paktia Province, but it exploded before entering, killing two Afghan security guards and wounding nine civilian laborers, apparently as they arrived for work.

The Taliban said the suicide bomber was a 70-year-old man and claimed that the blast killed 27 foreign soldiers on the largely American base, but a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said there were no reports of coalition casualties there.

The attacks reflect a growing trend over the last two years in which the great majority of civilian casualties have been caused by the Taliban and their allied insurgent groups. The United Nations in Afghanistan said in its June report to the secretary general that 80 percent of civilian casualties were caused by “antigovernment elements.”

In the Herat attacks, the two mines exploded on the same road at about the same time, but in different villages in Obe District, said Mohiuddin Noori, the spokesman for the provincial governor. He said they occurred in an area frequented by Taliban but with no coalition forces present, and that they were apparently aimed at civilians.

The victims in both cases had been on their way to a market to buy provisions, Mr. Noori said, and both vehicles were full of civilians. In an explosion involving a truck, eight people were wounded and one woman died. In the second blast, the bomb hit a minibus and all 22 people on board were killed, he said.

A statement released later by the Ministry of the Interior put the death toll at 24, including 5 women, and the wounded at 11, including 7 children under age 5.

Late Sunday night, three Taliban suicide bombers, one of them driving a van full of explosives, attacked a fuel depot in Kandahar Province, killing four Afghan security guards and wounding eight others, three of them Nepalese contract workers. They failed, however, to enter the fortified compound.

On Wednesday, in Oruzgan Province in the south, a motorcycle packed with explosives was left in a market in the Dehrawout District and detonated as shoppers gathered to buy food for the evening meal breaking the daily Ramadan fast. Ahmad Milad Mudasir, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said five civilians were killed, two of them young boys.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, in southern Helmand Province, two civilians were killed by a roadside bomb, according to the provincial police chief. The victims were farmers who were taking grapes to the market, he said.

On Tuesday morning, gunmen on two motorcycles shot and killed a 22-year-old woman, Rabia Sadat, as she headed for work at a rural development project. Shahida Husain, a member of the High Peace Council from Kandahar, said Ms. Sadat worked in the government job to support her family.

“This kind of killing really affects the female gender in Kandahar, and actually stops women from working outside their homes,” she said. “Women in Kandahar really live in a state of fear, and I wonder how girls still attend schools and their parents even let them.”

No one has claimed responsibility for her killing or for the motorcycle bombing in Oruzgan.

The biggest killer of civilians, according to the United Nations report and other reports, has been roadside bombs, followed by suicide bombings, which often kill civilians when the bombers fail to reach their targets.

An indication of the scope of the insurgents’ suicide bomb campaign came on Wednesday, when the National Directorate for Security, the Afghan intelligence service, displayed 33 suicide vests and a ton of explosives seized from a minivan in Zabul Province. The vests and explosives were hidden among a shipment of secondhand clothing, officials said, and the driver and another person admitted they were on their way to Kandahar Province in the south.

Reporting was contributed by Ray Rivera from Kandahar and Kabul; Taimoor Shah from Kandahar; Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost; and Sangar Rahimi and Sharifullah Sahak from Kabul.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 18, 2011

An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that two Afghan security guards and nine civilian laborers had been killed at Forward Operating Base Gardez.

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