Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Roadside bomb kills 14 civilians and injures four in southern Afghanistan

TALIBAN HEARTLAND:The war is now at its deadliest, with 2,412 civilians killed in the first 10 months of last year, a 20% increase from the previous year, and 709 NATO deaths

AFP, KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

Fourteen Afghan civilians were killed and four injured on Thursday when a minivan struck a roadside bomb in a Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan.

The device exploded on a road between the districts of Gereshk and Sangin in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold where US-led international troops are battling hard against the Islamist militants.

“Now we know that 14 people, all civilians including women and children, were martyred and four others, all men, were injured,” provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said.

“The bomb was planted by the Taliban,” he added.

The Islamist militia, which frequently denies responsibility for attacks on civilians, said it played no part in the explosion.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai “strongly condemned” the devastating blast, blaming it on “the enemies of Afghanistan,” a reference to Taliban insurgents.

The attack was also condemned “in the strongest possible terms” by Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, who said there was “no justification for such action.”

Much of Helmand Province, the heart of Afghanistan’s opium trade and rich in agriculture, is under Taliban influence.

Sangin, one of Helmand’s main towns, is one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in the Afghan war and around a third of all British troops killed in the conflict have died there.

British soldiers handed over responsibility for the area to US forces in September.

On Monday, three people were killed in Kandahar city, in the neighboring province, when a car bomb exploded in front of a bank where police were queuing to collect their salaries.

Confirming the latest attack, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: “More than 10 Afghan civilians were killed and several others were wounded in an explosion triggered by insurgents in a crowded area of Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand Province today.”

Afghan and NATO forces helped to evacuate the wounded, ISAF added, calling the attack “despicable.”

The nine-year war between the Afghan government, backed by 140,000 US-led foreign troops, and the Taliban is now at its deadliest.

The UN says 2,412 civilians died in Afghanistan in the first 10 months of last year and 3,803 were injured.

The figures represented a 20 percent increase on the same period in 2009, the UN said last month, adding that over three-quarters of the casualties were linked to “anti-government elements.”

A total of 709 international troops died in Afghanistan last year, according to the independent iCasualties Web site, the highest figure since the war began in 2001.

About 810 Afghan troops have also died this year, most of them killed by improvised explosive devices or crude home-made bombs, according to Afghanistan’s defense ministry.

US President Barack Obama announced 30,000 extra troops for Afghanistan in 2009 as part of a surge strategy to try to turn around the conflict.

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