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Attacks on military taking a heavy toll on Afghans

November 14, 2008|M. Karim Faiez and Laura King | Faiez is a special correspondent; King is a Times staff writer.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, AND ISTANBUL, TURKEY — An attack on a U.S. military convoy Thursday, which killed at least eight Afghan bystanders along with an American soldier, pointed up one of the conflict's grimmest patterns: civilians being caught up almost daily in insurgent attacks aimed at foreign troops.

Western military officials accuse Taliban-led militants of deliberately causing hundreds of such deaths this year.

The explosion in a market outside the city of Jalalabad injured scores of Afghans and more than a dozen U.S. soldiers, and created a scene of carnage. Terrified animals bleated, clouds of smoke and dust billowed, and traders screamed for someone to help the wounded. Several vehicles, including flimsy motorized rickshaws often used in Afghan towns and cities, were incinerated in the explosion. Clothes and shoes lay scattered in the dirt.

Even hours after the attack in the Bati Kot district, reports on the number of casualties were contradictory. A spokesman for the U.S. military, which helped treat the wounded, initially put the number of Afghan dead at 20. The governor of Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sharzia, later said eight civilians were confirmed dead and more than 60 injured. The victims were taken to different hospitals and clinics, further confusing the casualty count.

An American military spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, did not specify the nationality of the dead soldier, in keeping with coalition rules about waiting for notification of kin. But provincial officials said it was an American.

U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan this year are at their highest level since the start of the war, now in its eighth year. About one-quarter of the 627 American personnel killed in the conflict died this year, according to the independent website

Much of the violence is concentrated in Afghanistan's south, the Taliban's former heartland, and the east, which is vulnerable to the infiltration of fighters from the tribal belt across the border in Pakistan, where a parallel insurgency is gathering force.

In Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan's troubled northwest, officials said an Iranian diplomat had been kidnapped Thursday and a Pakistani bodyguard killed. Gunmen grabbed Hesmatollah Attarzadeh, commercial counselor at the Iranian consulate, as he was leaving his home in the prosperous suburb of Hayatabad.

A day earlier in Peshawar, an American aid worker and his driver were fatally shot. Outside the city, a dozen trucks carrying supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan were hijacked this week.

The market attack outside Jalalabad came a day after a massive truck bombing in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar wrecked a government compound, killed six people and injured more than 40.

Also Wednesday, two suspected insurgents on a motorbike threw acid at a group of schoolgirls on the outskirts of Kandahar, two of whom were hospitalized with burns.

The United Nations condemned Thursday's bombing, together with the previous day's attacks in Kandahar. Chris Alexander, the world body's deputy special representative in Afghanistan, said the market attack "inflicted enormous suffering" and denounced what he called militants' flagrant disregard for civilians' lives.


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