KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban militants detonated a car bomb outside an Afghan intelligence office near the capital Sunday and then tried to attack it on foot with guns, officials and the insurgent group said. At least four soldiers guarding the compound were killed and six insurgents died in the assault, officials said.
Separately Sunday, Afghan officials said that an apparent NATO airstrike had killed 15 people – nine of them civilians, including women and children – in a remote eastern province where the Taliban are strong. NATO said 10 militants died in the strike, but that it had no reports of any civilian deaths.
Both incidents underscored the insecurity in Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign forces reduce their presence and hand over more responsibilities to Afghan troops. Sunday’s bombing, for instance, occurred in Maidan Shahr, a city in eastern Wardak province that lies just 40 kilometres from Kabul.
Hazrat Janan, a member of the Wardak provincial council, described the explosion as powerful, saying that it shattered windows in a wide stretch of the city.
Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the explosion occurred around 1 p.m. and that many of the wounded were Afghan government employees working in nearby offices. Soldiers guarding the compound managed to kill the militants on foot after the explosion, he said. He said four soldiers and five attackers died, in addition to the car bomber.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
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Meanwhile, conflicting reports emerged from the airstrike in the Watapur district of Kunar, a province that lies along the border with Pakistan. The territory is dangerous and difficult to reach, and many Arab and other foreign insurgents are believed to operate there alongside the Afghan Taliban. Some are suspected of links to the Al-Qaida terrorist network.
Kunar province police chief Abdul Habib Sayed Khaili said the airstrike hit a pickup truck carrying women and children in Qoro village soon after three Arab and three Afghan militants boarded it Saturday evening. He said some reports called it a drone strike, but that Afghan officials had been unable to confirm that. Of the 15 dead, four were women, four were children and one was the driver, the police official said.
Watapur district chief Zalmai Yousefi also confirmed the airstrike and said 15 people were killed, including women and children.
NATO spokeswoman 1st Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli said the military alliance carried out a “precision strike” that killed 10 “enemy forces,” but that it had received no reports of any civilians dying. Annicelli had no immediate details on who exactly the dead were or what prompted the airstrike, but said NATO was still investigating the matter.
“We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously,” NATO said in a statement.
Even as U.S.-led foreign forces draw down their presence in Afghanistan, with a full exit expected by the end of 2014, the air support they provide Afghan troops in many regions is still a crucial part of operations against the Taliban, the resurgent militant movement that wants to topple the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Past strikes that kill civilians have infuriated Afghans. President Hamid Karzai has spoken out forcefully against them and banned Afghan troops from requesting NATO airstrikes during operations in residential areas.
But as the violence in Afghanistan has spread in recent years, civilians are increasingly getting caught up in it.
Around 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the first half of this year – a huge portion of them in insurgent attacks – according to the United Nations. That marked a 24 per cent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year.