Afghan suicide bomber kills 14, including three NATO troops

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed a convoy of NATO and Afghan forces carrying out a joint patrol in the eastern city of Khost on Monday, killing at least 14 people, including three coalition soldiers and their Afghan interpreter, local authorities said.

Afghan Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m. in the middle of a bustling plaza. Abdul Jabar Nahimi, governor for Khost province, said the blast also killed 10 Afghan civilians and injured 61 others, including three Afghan national police officers.

In a statement, NATO confirmed the deaths of the coalition soldiers and the interpreter. Officials did not release the nationalities of the soldiers killed.

Khost is one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces, perched on the border of Pakistan's volatile tribal areas that serve as sanctuary for some Afghan insurgents. In December 2009, the province was the scene of a suicide bombing of a CIA base that killed seven the intelligence agency's employees and contractors.

Joint patrols have become one of the most controversial aspects of the uneasy partnership between Washington and Kabul, as both sides prepare for the handoff of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. So-called insider attacks -- members of Afghan security forces killing their coalition counterparts -- have claimed the lives of more than 50 U.S. and coalition troops this year.

In reaction to the jump in insider attacks, NATO earlier this month temporarily suspended joint operations with Afghan security forces, allowing them only if they were approved by a high-ranking regional commander. Though the restrictions remain in place, U.S. officials say cooperation on joint operations has resumed.

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Yaqubi is a special correspondent in Kabul.

Photo: Afghan police secure the site of a suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan. Credit: Nashanuddin Khan / Associated Press


NATO investigates killing of U.S. soldier, contractor in Afghanistan

Afghnistan-bradshawISLAMABAD, Pakistan — NATO forces Sunday were investigating whether the weekend shooting deaths of a U.S. soldier and an American civilian contractor in Afghanistan were the result of an insider attack or linked to insurgent gunfire.

If confirmed as an insider attack, it would be the latest in a disturbing surge of so-called “green-on-blue” killings that have threatened collaboration between Afghan and NATO forces ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

The attack, which occurred late afternoon Saturday in the eastern province of Wardak, came just days after top U.S. military officials had said joint operations between U.S. and Afghan forces were resuming following a temporary halt imposed by the U.S. because of the rising number of insider attacks.

Gen. Abdul Qayuum Baqizoi, Wardak’s police chief, said gunfire broke out between NATO and Afghan army troops at a checkpoint in the province’s Sayedabad district. Three other NATO soldiers were injured in the gunfight. Three of the seven Afghan army soldiers deployed at the checkpoint were killed in the gunfire, Baqizoi said. A “misunderstanding” led to the incident,” Baqizoi added, but he would not elaborate.

On Sunday morning, a short statement issued by NATO described the incident as “a suspected insider attack.” A joint NATO-Afghan security force investigation into the attack was underway, according to the statement.

However, at a news conference early Sunday evening, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, a deputy coalition forces commander, said NATO and Afghan military officials were still trying to determine whether the incident was triggered by firing from insurgents, adding that the “circumstances were somewhat confused.”

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Suspected insider attack kills U.S. soldier, contractor in Afghanistan

Suspected insider attack kills U.S. soldier
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A U.S. soldier and an American civilian contractor were shot to death this weekend in what NATO officials said on Sunday was a suspected insider attack, the latest in a disturbing surge of so-called green-on-blue killings that have threatened collaboration between Afghan and NATO forces ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.

The attack, which occurred late Saturday afternoon in the eastern province of Wardak, comes just days after top U.S. military officials said joint operations between U.S. and Afghan forces were resuming after a temporary halt imposed by the U.S. because of the rising number of insider attacks.

Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoi, Wardak’s police chief, said gunfire broke out between NATO and Afghan army troops at a checkpoint in the province’s Sayedabad district. Three other NATO soldiers were injured in the gunfight. Three of the seven Afghan army soldiers deployed at the checkpoint were killed, Baqizoi said. A “misunderstanding” led to the incident, Baqizoi added, but he would not elaborate.

A short statement issued by NATO described the incident as “a suspected insider attack.” A joint NATO-Afghan security force investigation into the attack was underway, according to the statement.

More than 50 U.S. and coalition troops have been killed in insider attacks this year, a significant jump from 2011, when 35 NATO soldiers were killed in such attacks. U.S. officials have said that the Taliban insurgency accounts for about a quarter of the attacks, either through infiltration of Afghan security forces or influence on Afghan troops. Disputes stemming from cultural differences are also often cited as a cause for the attacks. Roughly 15% of all NATO troop deaths in Afghanistan are the result of “insider” shootings.

More than 1,950 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan during the 11-year conflict, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks NATO troop deaths in Afghanistan.

Insider attacks are becoming a major impediment to Washington’s exit strategy in Afghanistan, partly because cooperation between U.S. and Afghan security forces is needed as NATO continues to hand over more responsibility for securing the country to Afghan troops. That cooperation includes joint NATO-Afghan troop operations to track down insurgent commanders and fighters, as well as a continued step-up in NATO training of Afghan soldiers and police.

Earlier this month, NATO responded to the rise in insider attacks by temporarily suspending joint operations with Afghan security forces, unless those operations were approved by a high-ranking regional commander. The restrictions remain in place, but last week officials in Washington said cooperation on joint operations had resumed.

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--Alex Rodriguez and Aimal Yaqubi. Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Photo: A tattoo on the back of a U.S. Army sergeant is seen through his torn shirt after a foot patrol in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. The full tattoo reads, "Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage." Credit: Julie Jacobson / Associated Press


Insurgents kill two NATO troops in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed two foreign troops in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to NATO and Afghan officials.

Din Mohammad Darwesh, the governor's spokesperson in Logar province, said the bomber targeted a vehicle inside a NATO convoy that was on its way to a nearby district. Although the NATO-led international military coalition declined to give further details on the casualties, citing policy, Darwesh said both of those killed were Americans, one immediately and one who died of his wounds a short while later. A third soldier was injured, he added.

Wednesday's deaths bring the number of coalition fatalities to at least 3,190, including 2,123 Americans, since the war started in 2001, according to icasualties.org.

On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that his country has made progress after decades of war, but that it still has a ways to go. "Our achievements have not come about easily," he said. "The Afghan people continue to pay the biggest price any nation has paid -- in both life and treasure."

Insurgents in Afghanistan remain heavily reliant on homemade bombs when carrying out attacks, although the coalition says it's seen growing success foiling such attacks. More than half of all roadside bombs and mines were discovered and cleared before they detonated between January and July, NATO said in its monthly casualty report for August, while those that detonated were down 14% compared with the January-July 2011 period.

Insurgent attacks involving weapons other than homemade bombs -- including those involving machine guns and surface-to-air missiles -- fell 9% in August after hitting a 10-month peak in June. Afghanistan's poppy-growing season, when many insurgents head off to tend their crop, was shorter than usual this year, the coalition said, leading to an earlier-than-normal fighting season in May and June. That pushed everything up, it added, leading to diminished violence in July and August.

But significant regional differences remain. Though there were fewer such enemy attacks in Kabul and in the eastern, southern and southwestern parts of the country between January and August, attacks rose in northern and western Afghanistan.

NATO said that in August, insurgents were responsible for 98% of all civilian deaths and injuries -- a politically sensitive issue -- in those cases where responsibility could be determined.

The insurgents' continued heavy reliance on roadside and suicide bombs is evident in the daily report of incidents produced by the coalition.

On Wednesday, NATO said that an orphaned Afghan boy in Helmand province who was approximately 11 years old -- not knowing your exact age isn't unusual in south Asia -- managed to escape from insurgents planning to use him as a suicide bomber.

The boy, whose name was not given, reportedly told Afghan police that the insurgents gave him money hoping to persuade him to wear a suicide vest and detonate himself near NATO or Afghan army forces, which he refused to do.

NATO also reported Wednesday the arrest earlier in the week of an insurgent leader in eastern Khost province suspected of planning and coordinating roadside bombing attacks throughout the region. The coalition added in a statement that he was responsible for distributing significant quantities of explosives and weapons and for training other insurgents to use homemade bombs.

At the time of his arrest, he may have been trying to infiltrate the Afghan security forces, the coalition added, although it was not immediately clear why a regional leader would be inserting himself into the Afghan armed forces rather than using underlings.

Attacks by Afghan police and troops, as well as insurgents using stolen or otherwise acquired Afghan uniforms, have increased in recent months, sowing distrust between Afghan and coalition forces.

Also on Wednesday, NATO forces reported, a Taliban homemade bomb expert was arrested in eastern Ghazni district. The coalition also reported that Taliban leader Malang was killed Tuesday in a "precision airstrike" in central Wardak province.

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Female suicide bomber kills up to 12 in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Up to 12 people were killed when a female suicide bomber rammed a car into a vanload of foreign aviation workers near Kabul's international airport early Tuesday, Afghan police said.

The powerful blast, on a busy stretch of roadway lined with wedding halls, wrecked the minivan that was carrying pilots and engineers to the airport, police said. Eight people were injured in the attack, officials said.

Aviation sources reported that foreigners aboard the minivan, who accounted for most of the victims, were believed to be South African nationals working for a private charter company.

Confusion about the number and nationality of those killed was blamed on the force of the explosion, which could be heard across the city and hurled the minivan about 150 feet. International troops rushed to the scene, cordoning off the area surrounding the charred hulk.

Unusually, the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami claimed to have carried out the attack, and said on its website that the targets were "intelligence" operatives. Most such strikes in and around Kabul are blamed on the Taliban or an offshoot, the Haqqani network.

The suicide attack, the second major strike in the city this month, came amid tight security due to fear of violence in response to a crude anti-Islam film made in the United States. A violent protest on Monday left dozens of Kabul police injured, and most international organizations in the city have ordered foreign workers to stay out of public view.

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NATO force orders teamwork with Afghans cut back

KABUL, Afghanistan –- In the most sweeping response yet to “insider” shootings that have killed 51 Western troops this year, the NATO force has ordered a halt to joint patrols and other field operations by Afghan and foreign troops unless specifically approved by a regional commander, military officials said Tuesday.

The move is a dramatic blow to what had been the centerpiece of the Western exit strategy, which was for foreign troops to train Afghan police and soldiers in the field, so that Afghan forces would be ready to take the lead in fighting the Taliban by 2014.

Under the new directive, Afghan and NATO troops will continue to share joint bases, but contact between them will be limited to officers at the battalion level, mainly in the form of planning sessions and meetings, military officials said.

The order was given Sunday by Lt. Gen. James Terry, who heads the Joint Command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, on the same day that four American troops were shot and killed by Afghan police. The NATO force did not publicize the directive other than to provide copies in response to specific queries from news organizations.

Maj. Adam Wojack, an ISAF spokesman, acknowledged that the change would have a “huge” effect in the field. Until now, up to 80% of operations were “partnered” ones involving Western and Afghan troops.

He said the directive was prompted not only by insider shootings, which have accounted this year for about 15% of the NATO force’s fatalities, but also by an anti-Islam video that has triggered protests across the Muslim world, including a violent demonstration in Kabul on Monday.

“There’s a lot of tension out there,” he said, describing the directive as “a pretty major measure to mitigate risks.”

Exceptions to the directive would have to be approved by  regional commanders, most of whom are two-star generals. Previously, lieutenants were authorized to give the go-ahead for patrols and other joint operations.

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Suicide bomber kills about 12 people near Afghan airport

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A female suicide bomber struck near Kabul’s international airport early Tuesday, killing about 12 people, nine of them believed to be foreigners, Afghan police said.

The blast, on a busy stretch of road lined with wedding halls, wrecked a minivan that was carrying international and Afghan contract workers, said the police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi. In addition to those killed, eight people were injured, he said.

The insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami claimed to have carried out the attack, and said on its website that the targets were “intelligence” operatives. Most such strikes in and around Kabul are blamed on the Taliban or an offshoot, the Haqqani network.

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Riots break out in Afghanistan in protest of anti-Islam film

Rioters infuriated by an anti-Islam video clashed with police in the Kabul, Afghanistan, setting cars and tires ablaze and chanting anti-American slogans

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Rioters infuriated by an anti-Islam video clashed with police in the Afghan capital on Monday, setting cars and tires ablaze and chanting anti-American slogans.

Police blocked off the traffic circle closest to the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions, and most Westerners working in Kabul were ordered by their organizations to try to stay out of public view.

Monday's unrest broke out when about 1,000 people gathered near an American base on the capital's eastern edge began marching toward the city. Police fired shots into the air to try to disperse the crowd, but the protesters continued to surge forward.

PHOTOS: Protests over anti-Islam film spread

Foreign installations had been braced for trouble on Friday, the main Muslim prayer day, but there were only scattered and mainly peaceful protests. President Obama telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai beforehand, urging him to do what he could to stave off violence. Karzai did not personally issue a public call for calm, but aides said he warned local officials and religious leaders against inciting riots.

Frictions have been rising between Washington and the Karzai administration in recent days. The Afghan president had a tense meeting Sunday with the U.S. special envoy to the region, Marc Grossman, and afterward issued a sharply worded statement saying that the American failure to hand over some suspected insurgents when a military prison at Bagram air base reverted to Afghan control violated a strategic pact between the two countries.

Karzai also said he was "deeply saddened" by an errant U.S. airstrike on Sunday that killed eight Afghan village women in the eastern province of Laghman. The NATO force has expressed regret and is investigating the incident.

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Photo: Afghan Police stand by burning tires during a protest in Kabul. Ahmad Jamshid / Associated Press


Afghans: Eight village women killed in NATO airstrike

APphoto_Afghanistan(2)
KABUL, Afghanistan — Eight rural Afghan women gathering fuel for fires were killed Sunday by a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said, and mourning villagers carried the bodies to the provincial governor’s office in protest.

The Western military acknowledged that a strike aimed at a group of insurgents had apparently killed between five and eight civilians as well. An investigation was continuing, the NATO force said.

A spokesman for the NATO coalition, Air Force Capt. Dan Einert, said the bombardment followed a “significant engagement” Sunday morning in the remote Alinger district of Laghman province. He said a unit of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force positively identified a group of about 45 insurgents with hostile intent and called in the airstrike, which killed a large number of them.

“Unfortunately, we are aware of civilian casualties as a result of this strike,” he said.

Sarhadi Zowak, a Laghman provincial spokesman, said in addition to the eight women killed, seven other women were wounded.

In recent years, NATO and Afghan government forces have been responsible for a shrinking proportion of civilian deaths, with nearly all such deaths and injuries blamed on insurgents. But airstrikes remain the single largest cause of civilian casualties caused by international forces.

Overall, the United Nations reported more than 3,000 civilians killed or injured by the conflict in the first half of this year, a drop of 15% from the same period a year ago. But that trend has been reversing itself during the warm-weather months.

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Photo: An Afghan woman is treated in a hospital in the Alingar district of Laghman province east of Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Khalid Khan / Associated Press.


Assailants believed to be Afghan police kill four Western troops, officials say

Gen. John Allen
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Assailants believed to be members of the Afghan police killed four Western troops Sunday in southern Afghanistan, the NATO force said, less than 24 hours after two British soldiers were killed in a similar “insider” shooting.

Insider attacks, which have killed at least 51 NATO service members this year, have become a serious obstacle to Western efforts to train the Afghan police and army so they can take over the job of fighting the Taliban when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization combat mission ends in 2014.

The military statement, in keeping with usual practice, did not disclose the nationalities of the four who were killed Sunday, but most of the troops serving in the south are American or British. The NATO force said the incident was under investigation.

Often such attacks involve a lone assailant, but the military’s terse account of Sunday’s shooting indicated more than one attacker was involved. That might explain why four troops, an unusually large number, were killed in the same incident.

Both Western and Afghan officials have been making urgent efforts to stem the flood of insider attacks, including cultural training for troops on both sides, tighter vetting of Afghan recruits and the embedding of intelligence personnel in Afghan battalions to try to sniff out signs of trouble.

NATO personnel have been ordered to carry weapons with rounds in the chamber at all times, and “guardian angels” are assigned to watch over comrades at vulnerable times, such as when they are eating, sleeping, working out or bathing.

Last month, U.S. special forces suspended the training of about 1,000 recruits to a village militia known as the Afghan Local Police pending a rechecking of the entire 16,000-member force for links to the insurgency.

The American commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, has said up to one-quarter of insider attacks are linked directly or indirectly to the Taliban, sometimes by threats to the families of members of the Afghan security forces, and sometimes through suborning troops when they are on leave from the Afghan military.

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Photo: U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, attends a change of command ceremony of Italian soldiers in Herat province, Afghanistan, on Friday. Credit: Jalil Rezayee / European Pressphoto Agency  

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