An Afghan policeman checks out the site of a suicide attack in Khost, east… (Rasool Adil, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Kabul and Dubai — A bomb planted by a road killed 15 Afghan civilians Saturday, including eight children, in a volatile southern district where American forces last year made a major push to dislodge the Taliban, provincial officials said.
Arghandab district, just outside the south's main city of Kandahar, was the scene of heavy fighting in the summer and fall of 2010. Military progress in the south has been touted as a sign of the success of last year's U.S. troop surge, but insurgents in recent weeks have been filtering back into some key districts, seeking to reclaim former strongholds.
Violence has been rising across Afghanistan since the Taliban began their spring offensive about six weeks ago. The accelerated tempo of deaths and injuries comes as the White House is weighing the scope of a planned drawdown of U.S. forces.
Senior military officials including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who visited Afghanistan last week, have said too quick a reduction in U.S. troop strength could jeopardize earlier territorial gains against the Taliban.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the insurgents' favored weapon against Western troops, responsible for the majority of military deaths. But as happened in Saturday's blast, buried bombs often maim and kill civilians, who travel on the same roads used by the NATO force.
Those killed in Saturday's explosion were riding in a single crowded minivan, a common practice, particularly in impoverished rural areas. Zalmay Ayoubi, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor, said four women and three men were killed along with the eight children. A woman was injured.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry blamed insurgents for what it called an "inhumane and cowardly" act.
Civilian casualty levels have reached some of their highest levels of the war, with nearly 2,800 killed last year. The Taliban and other insurgent groups are responsible for most of those deaths and injuries, but smaller numbers of casualties caused by foreign troops are a principal source of friction between the Western military and the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Noncombatants are often caught up in attacks aimed at Western troops or Afghan military installations. That happened again in the eastern province of Khost, where a suicide bomber Saturday struck the headquarters of a police quick-reaction force.
The attacker blew himself up outside the gates of the compound, killing the force's commander and a bodyguard as they arrived for work. A provincial spokesman, Mubarez Zadran, said the blast also hit a group of bystanders, killing a 12-year-old boy and injuring eight other people.