Image: Afghan man prepares coal
Ahmad Nazar  /  AP
An Afghan man prepares coal to make a fire for cooking, outside of a local restaurant, in Kabul.
By
updated 6/26/2011 1:58:06 PM ET 2011-06-26T17:58:06

President Hamid Karzai on Sunday accused Pakistan of firing 470 rockets into two eastern Afghan provinces over the past three weeks, a deadly rain of artillery that Afghan officials said killed 36 people, including 12 children.

The attacks came in areas of Kunar and Nangahar provinces where NATO forces have withdrawn, and where Pakistani Taliban moved in behind fleeing civilians, Afghan border officials said.

Karzai indicated Pakistani government forces are responsible for the bombardment, and "they should be stopped immediately." And "if they are not being carried out by Pakistan, Pakistan should make it clear who is behind the attacks," he said in a statement issued by the presidential palace.

Afghan security officials said joint NATO and Afghan border units have fired back into Pakistan, but NATO and Pakistan military officials denied any knowledge of border skirmishes.

Story: A decade on, no clear answers in Afghanistan

NATO reported, meanwhile, that five service members were killed in at least three insurgent attacks in western, southern, and eastern Afghanistan on Sunday. The international coalition gave no other details. The deaths bring to at least 53 the number of NATO service members killed in June, and to more than 200 this year.

Karzai said he discussed the rocket barrage with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari during an anti-terrorism conference in Tehran on Saturday, the same day the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman warned that Afghanistan would defend itself.

Image: Afghan man
Ahmad Nazar  /  AP
An Afghan man selling mangos in Kabul waits for customers, as a military billboard is seen in the background.

"The government of Pakistan should understand that there will be a reaction for killing Afghan citizens," said spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi.

Story: 35 die as bomber destroys Afghan medical center

The Afghan president said he also discussed the border attack with Afghan NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry during his regular national security council meeting on Sunday.

American and Afghan officials have pressured Pakistan to end its security forces' long-standing relationship with the Taliban movement, viewed as a tool for Pakistani influence over strategically placed Afghanistan. Such major artillery support for a Taliban operation, however, would be one of the most blatant recent examples of Pakistani support and bodes ill for the testy relationship among the three countries.

Afghan border police spokesman Edris Mohmand, who reported 36 Afghans killed by the rockets, including 12 children, said 2,000 families have fled districts threatened by the barrage, including Asmar and Nangalam in Kunar, and Goshta district in Nangahar.

"All these attacks have been from Pakistan's side and for sure they are Pakistani weapons being used against innocent Afghans," Mohmand said. "The border police in the eastern region have been equipped with heavy artillery but we are waiting for orders from the interior minister."

NATO has recently withdrawn many of its combat troops from forward operating bases and combat outposts in Kunar and Nangarhar. Both provinces continue to be heavily contested by Taliban fighters.

Spokesman Azimi said the Afghan Defense Ministry "asks the president of Pakistan to stop the artillery firing and compensate the losses caused."

Unrest on the rise in Afghanistan
Violence has been on the rise across Afghanistan since the country's Taliban Islamists launched a spring offensive and promised retaliation for the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid in Pakistan on May 2.

The deadliest single attack since February occurred on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, when a suicide bomber blew up his sport utility vehicle at a health clinic while women and children lined up for maternity care and vaccinations. At least 35 were killed.

The vehicle smashed through a wall at the Akbarkhail Public Medical Center before anyone could shoot the driver or blow out the tires, local officials said. The force of the blast caused the building to collapse.

Survivors frantically dug through the rubble with shovels and bare hands. At least 53 other people were wounded, said the provincial public health director, Dr. Mohammad Zaref Nayebkhail.

"They were offering important services for the people. We had very good services and lots of patients. There were only 10 beds but lots of other services in that center. It's why the casualties were so high," he said.

Wary of being blamed for civilian casualties, the Taliban denied it was behind the bombing in Azra district in Logar province.

"This attack was not done by our fighters," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Taliban claims it does not target civilians, but the movement is fractured and Saturday's attacks shared characteristics of other recent violence.

A recent U.N. report found that May was the deadliest month for civilians since it began keeping track in 2007, and it said insurgents were to blame for 82 percent of the 368 deaths recorded.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Karzai: Taliban peace talks going well

  1. Closed captioning of: Karzai: Taliban peace talks going well

    >>> new this morning for you, afghanistan president karzai says his country and the u.s. are holding peace talks with the taliban . karzai says the negotiations are going well. u.s. embassy officials in kabul are not commenting. this is the first official acknowledgment of peace talks in the country. i'm joined by retired colonel jack jab ccobs.

    >> it's like libya, we're supporting the rebels. who? the taliban is quite fragmented. there are bits and pieces everywhere, and each little cell has a close relationship with al qaeda . so trying to herd these guys is like herds cats and worms. it's very tough.

    >> it's been ten years. the objective has been to deal with the taliban during the war that we've been undertaking in afghanistan . what do you think these talks are aimed at that are different than before?

    >> they're trying to establish the basis for talks. we're talking about it and talking about it. the big push here, actually, is karzai . this may be just a bluff, and he's stalling for time. don't forget, collects a great deal of money from us. he's in power because of us. if he -- there's some kind of peace with the taliban , he has to share power or he'll be out altogether. this is the worry this guy is stalling for time, but the real objective here is to separate the taliban from al qaeda . we're perfectly happy to deal with the taliban . we want al qaeda out.

    >> another part is the violence that is ongoing. what we're hearing right now from the associated press is that the taliban claimed responsibility for yet another attack today, a new one, at least nine killed in that. will we see at all any sort of cessation or this mitigation of the violence happening so consistently over time ?

    >> i think it's going to increase. that's their lever to get what they want. karzai demands that the taliban as a precondition renounce violence, adhere to the constitution of afghanistan and all the rest of that stuff. they've already rejected that. this is all -- all this violence is leverage, and it will continue until there is some sort of agreement.

    >> is this the right strategy to go after all the futile lords? there is no grand leader. is it a worthwhile strategy?

    >> it's the only strategy.

    >> it's the only strategy.

    >> yeah. we're going to make peace with the bad guys in kandahar, all the places where there's lots and lots of violence now. we're in control of the areas important to us and to the taliban . we'll make peace if there is peace to be made in those areas. there's not peace across the board in that country.

    >> karzai is involved here, colonel, but it's been a troubled relationship between karzai and the united states . domestically there in afghanistan it's been difficult for karzai to have any effect outside of the capital.

    >> he's not going to either. in the end he's going to be happy with being the mayor of kabul , collecting a lot of money, which he already has, or leaving. in the end it's going to be unlikely we'll have a centrally governed afghanistan , centrally governed by karzai from kabul . that won't happen. it will continue to be fragmented.

    >> colonel jacobs, thank you souch.

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