Afghanistan — A suicide bomber targeting U.S. troops outside an Afghan government office killed nine children walking home from school and two of the Americans, the latest sign that this year’s fighting season could be one of the deadliest of the 12-year-old war, according to Associated Press.
An increase in casualties among Afghan civilians and security forces reinforces fears that foreign combat forces will be leaving behind a country in the throes of relentless violence when they withdraw next year.
An Afghan official insisted that despite the escalating carnage, the insurgents have made no advances.
With peace talks apparently dead in the water, the Taliban and other militants have fiercely stepped up attacks in recent weeks, unleashing multiple bombings, sieges of international aid groups’ compounds and armed attacks on police posts nationwide, and testing the ability of Afghan soldiers and police to hold their ground by themselves.
“The level of violence this year is the highest it has been since the war started in 2001,” said Thomas Ruttig of the Afghan Analysts Network, who conducted a detailed study of the first two months of the annual Taliban spring offensive. His analysis of attacks over two months puts the violence on par with 2011, the deadliest year of the war up to now.
Afghan officials say the insurgents have won no new territory or advantage, beyond causing mayhem. But the death toll has soared. In the past two weeks alone, violence has killed 125 Afghan civilians and injured 287, a 24 per cent increase in casualties from the same period last year, the United Nations’ mission said.
Monday’s civilian death toll reached 16 when a family in another eastern province drove their vehicle over a roadside bomb, killing all seven people inside.
The U.N. blamed militant attacks for 84 per cent of the recent civilian casualties, saying that tactics like suicide bombings near schools and planting roadside bombs around the country may amount to war crimes.
The Afghan army and police are fighting the insurgency with little or no help from international forces set to pull out next year after fighting in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban for sheltering al-Qaida’s terrorist leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Apparently to test the Afghan forces mettle, or rattle a nervous populace, the insurgents have chosen to ratchet up attacks rather than join a halting peace talk effort — or simply wait until after most international troops leave by the end of next year.
In the latest attacks, a bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives in the eastern province of Paktia, said Gen. Zelmia Oryakhail. The apparent target was a U.S. delegation, but children were the main victims.
A local school had just let pupils, between 10 and 16 years old, out for the day. Nine students were killed, along with an Afghan policeman, he said.
Many of the children’s bodies were burned beyond recognition, he said.
A U.S. military delegation had just attended a security briefing at the district administrative office, said district chief Saleh Mohammad Ahsas, who was in the meeting. He said the bomber appeared to have been waiting for the delegation and struck as the Americans left the compound.
The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan said that two of its service members died in the explosion. A Defence Department official in Washington confirmed they were Americans. He could not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the nationalities with reporters.