The Associated Press, January 6, 2012

Explosions kill 6 Afghan children, 5 NATO troops

The U.N. estimates improvised bombs and suicide attacks accounted for half of nearly 1,500 civilian deaths in the first six months of last year, the most recent statistics

By Slobodan Lekic

Explosives hidden in a trash heap killed six children in southern Afghanistan Friday, police said, and five NATO troops were killed in roadside bombings in the volatile region.

The children were rummaging through the trash for food scraps and bottles in the southern province of Uruzgon when the blast killed them, police spokesman Farid Ayal said. A civilian man also died in the blast.

Four other children were wounded by the explosion in Trinkot, the provincial capital about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

The U.N. estimates improvised bombs and suicide attacks accounted for half of nearly 1,500 civilian deaths in the first six months of last year, the most recent statistics.

Elsewhere in the south, four NATO troops died in one of Friday's bombings, and one was killed in a separate blast. The alliance said both incidents occurred in southern Afghanistan but provided no further details. It did not identify the troops or disclose what countries they came from.

The deaths bring to nine the number of international troops killed in the first week of the year. At least 544 NATO troops died in Afghanistan in 2011, the second-deadliest year for the coalition in the decade-old war.

Map of Afghanistan with Oruzgan highlighted
Map of Afghanistan with Oruzgan highlighted. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Roadside bombs are a favorite weapon of Taliban insurgents against coalition troops and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, but they also kill dozens of civilians each month.

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan have been significantly increased since 2009 and the government's army and police have rapidly expanded, resulting in the capture and killing of thousands of Taliban insurgents. Nonetheless, the guerrillas have retained their capability to inflict losses on coalition forces.

Faced with overwhelming allied superiority in numbers and firepower, the Taliban largely avoid direct combat, relying instead on roadside bombs, small ambushes and hit-and-run tactics to harass NATO and government forces.

Taliban military activities typically abate during the winter months, due to heavy snows and bitter cold in the rough mountain terrain.

The steady flow of casualties and the high costs of the operation have undermined support for the war, particularly among European allies who make up about a third of the approximately 130,000-member NATO-led force. They come at a time when defense budgets are being slashed as part of public spending cuts and other austerity measures designed to deal with the worsening economic crisis.

NATO is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the rapidly expanding Afghan police and army. Coalition forces plan to cease combat operations in 2014, when most foreign troops will be withdrawn.

The government's army and police will assume the lead role in about half the nation over the next several months.

On Thursday, President Hamid Karzai demanded that the largest detention center in the country be handed over to exclusive Afghan control.

The state-of-the-art internment facility located near Bagram Airfield is now jointly run by U.S. and Afghan authorities. It was completed in 2009 to replace another jail, where human rights groups claimed detainees were menaced, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless cells.

Karzai also demanded that all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation be turned over to the government. A presidential statement said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country's constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. and Afghanistan have been working on the transfer of detention facilities for a long time. She said no timeline has been agreed on.

"We're going to continue to work with the Afghan government to implement the transition that we have both agreed needs to happen," Nuland told reporters. "We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible."

Associated Press reporters Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

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