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Afghan energy minister targeted in bombing

September 28, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Services

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A suicide car bomb explosion targeting Afghanistan's energy minister killed four civilians Sunday, while weekend attacks and a violent storm killed seven international troops, including two Americans, officials said.

Taliban assassination attempts against Afghan officials have intensified this year, with more than 100 officials and pro-government tribal elders attacked -- half of them fatally.

The convoy carrying Energy Minister Ismail Khan, a power broker in the western region of Herat, was headed to the airport when a suicide car bomb exploded outside a high school, said Raouf Ahmadi, a police spokesman. Ahmadi said four civilians died and 17 people were wounded, including four of Khan's bodyguards.

He said Khan was unharmed and arrived safely at the airport.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militant group was responsible for the blast and that it targeted Khan, a former governor of Herat, which borders Iran.

Two U.S. service members died Saturday in the country's south -- one in a roadside bombing and the other in an insurgent attack, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led force said. A British soldier died Sunday in a bombing in southern Afghanistan, Britain's Defense Ministry said.

Three French soldiers died in a violent storm in northeastern Afghanistan late Saturday. One soldier was struck by lightning while two were swept away by a rain-swollen river during an operation in Kapisa province, said French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck. Later Sunday, a fourth French soldier died when his armor-plated car fell into a ravine on a road north of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Casualties among the American-led coalition's forces have mounted this year, putting added pressure on the Obama administration to rethink the U.S. approach to the conflict. The Pentagon is weighing a request from the U.S. commander on the ground for more troops to supplement the 68,000 Americans expected to be serving by year's end.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander, was profiled Sunday night on "60 Minutes" and said a different strategy as well as more troops are needed.

"We could do good things in Afghanistan for the next 100 years and fail," he said in calling for quick action to change the facts on the ground. "Because we're doing a lot of good things and it just doesn't add up to success. And we've got to think quicker."

Earlier Sunday in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates argued against a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying "the notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States."

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that Americans have no appetite for the kind of long-term strategy the administration has in place for Afghanistan. "I do not believe that the American people want to be in Afghanistan for the next 10 years effectively nation building," she said.

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Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

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