Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Afghan deaths increase

BLOODIEST PERIOD Amid fears the Taliban are receiving increased support in the countryside, tensions escalated over a weekend of more killings

AGENCIES , KABUL

A suicide bomb blast in a restaurant in eastern Afghanistan yesterday killed 15 Afghans, most of them soldiers with a militia force that works for the US military, a provincial governor told reporters.

The interior ministry in the capital said it knew of 12 dead and 17 wounded in the blast in the remote town of Urgun in the eastern province of Paktika, near the border with Pakistan.

"It was a suicide bombing," Paktika provincial Governor Mohammed Akram Kheplwak said.

"The bomber detonated the explosives attached to his body just after entering the restaurant," he said, citing officials and witnesses.

"Fifteen people have been martyred and 25 others have been wounded," he said.

Interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary blamed the attack on the "enemies of Afghanistan and of the government."

This often-used term generally refers to fighters with the extremist Taliban movement that was driven from power five years ago and is waging an insurgency marked by suicide and roadside bomb attacks.

Bashary said the blast was caused by a mine planted in the building, but Afghan and foreign military officials and a witness said it was a suicide attack.

Also in Afghanistan, NATO forces killed 55 Taliban fighters in fierce clashes in the south of the country, the alliance said yesterday.

NATO forces called in close air support after troops came under attack in the southern province of Uruzgan on Saturday, NATO said in a statement issued from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul.

"Initial battle damage assessment indicates that approximately 50 insurgents were killed in the attack. Regrettably, an ISAF soldier was also killed during the same incident," the statement said.

Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest period since US-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001.

The violence has seriously hampered development and reconstruction, raised fears that the Taliban were getting increasing support in the Afghan countryside, and reinforced perceptions that President Hamid Karzai has little control outside Kabul.

Also on Saturday, in neighboring Kandahar Province, NATO and Afghan soldiers, backed by air support, killed five Taliban in another clash. Three alliance soldiers were wounded.

Meanwhile, also in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban have released two Pakistani journalists who were detained for several days after entering territory controlled by the Taliban without permission, a purported spokesman for the hard-line Islamic militia said yesterday.

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