Associated France Press (AFP) 19/9/2006
Suicide blasts in Afghanistan kill 18, including four Canadians
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Three powerful suicide blasts struck Afghanistan, killing 18 people including four Canadian soldiers handing gifts to children.
The blasts were the latest in a spike of suicide bombings in Afghanistan blamed on the extremist Taliban movement, which has picked up a deadly insurgency as foreign forces have moved into insurgent strongholds.
In the first blast a man on a bicycle blew himself up in a crowd of children clamouring for pens and books from Canadian troops with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) near the southern city of Kandahar.
The explosion struck an area west of Kandahar where ISAF announced Sunday it had succeeded in driving out Taliban entrenched fighters, about 500 of whom it said earlier were killed in a two-week operation.
Four Canadian soldiers were killed, Canadian commander General David Fraser said. Police said about 12 soldiers were wounded but ISAF would not confirm the number.
Around two dozen civilians including children were hurt, ISAF and police said.
A witness said the suicide bomber had ridden the bike into a crowd of children gathered around the soldiers in the Zhari area around 35 kilometres (19 miles) west of Kandahar city.
"Kids were running towards the Canadian convoy because they were giving out pens and notebooks to the children," bystander Mohammed Karim told AFP.
"There was a crowd of kids laughing and shouting, 'Give me one, give me one.' At this time a man riding on a bicycle approached the crowd and detonated in the crowd."
Hours later a suicide car bomb exploded in the Afghan capital, killing three policemen and wounding another, a police chief said. Eleven people were hurt, city police criminal investigation chief Alishah Paktiawal said.
The blast, the fourth suicide attack in the city this month, was on a road in the east of Kabul that is often targeted by suicide attackers. Flesh and torn police uniforms and boots were scattered among shattered pieces of vehicle.
Another powerful blast exploded outside the landmark mosque in Afghanistan's western city of Herat. The suicide attack was targeted at a high-ranking police official who escaped unharmed, police said.
"After the incident we have received 11 dead bodies, including four police, and 18 wounded, including three police," deputy director Abdul Hakim Tamana said at the city's main hospital.
The doctor said at least one child was among the dead.
The insurgency, launched by the Taliban after they were toppled from government by a US-led coalition in 2001, is this year going through its bloodiest phase, with more than 2,000 people killed -- most of them rebels.
The insurgents have attacked districts and military bases en masse while stepping up a guerrilla-style campaign that sees almost daily suicide or roadside bomb blasts.
NATO has made an urgent call for around 2,000 extra troops and equipment to tackle stronger-than-expected Taliban resistance in the lawless and opium-producing south.
The UN representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said Monday NATO nations needed to "rise to the challenge" and put up the soldiers.
They must also drop the 60-70 caveats they have about where they would allow their troops to deploy, so that the force could be more flexible, he said.
Some of the 37 contributing nations to ISAF are reluctant to allow their soldiers to go into the country's more hostile areas.
ISAF announced meanwhile that it and Afghan forces launched a new offensive against Taliban insurgents in western Afghanistan, which has seen a recent surge in attacks.
Afghan police and soldiers were joined by troops from Italy, Spain and the United States in the offensive in Farah province, it said.