U.S.-led forces strike Taliban in Afghanistan

NATO-led British soldiers patrol a street in Kabul
NATO-led British soldiers patrol a street in Kabul on Wednesday.Ahmad Masood / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S.-led coalition on Friday said 25 Taliban fighters were killed in a joint operation with Afghan forces in the country’s south, while a rare gunbattle near the capital killed one militant.

About a 1,000 South Korean Christians ordered out of Afghanistan amid rumors they sought Christian converts in this Muslim country prepared to depart Friday. Their spokesman denied that was their intention.

The joint attack on the Taliban occurred Thursday in the village of De Adam Khan in Helmand province, a coalition statement said.

NATO took charge of security in the south this week amid a barrage of violence that has killed seven of its soldiers. However, the U.S.-led coalition, which is not under NATO command, has retained responsibility for counterterrorism operations and can still operate there.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Col. Thomas Collins, wouldn’t divulge details of the operation, but said: “This engagement shows that coalition forces, working in concert with Afghan security forces, will counter the Taliban in all regions of the country.”

Provincial police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhai, describing the same incident, said nine Taliban fighters were killed and 14 wounded. It wasn’t immediately possible to reconcile the differing figures.

Militants attacked a police checkpoint in a rare attack on the outskirts of Kabul, sparking a firefight that left one insurgent dead. Twelve men fired on the checkpoint for an hour before fleeing Thursday night, said police official Ali Shah Paktyawal.

A bombing aimed at a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan caused no damage or casualties Friday, officials said. The attack on a Canadian patrol came in the same area of Kandahar province where militants killed four Canadian soldiers and a suicide car bomber killed 21 civilians Thursday.

Karzai condemns bombing
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai condemned Thursday’s car bombing at a market, calling it a “cowardly attack against our Muslim people, against the Afghan people.”

Karzai also expressed sorrow for the deaths of the four Canadian soldiers. He thanked the international community “for their willingness to put their lives in danger for the sake of peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

A Chinook helicopter comes into land to pick up British soldiers after a mission in Nowzad, in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, in this handout picture taken July 30, 2006. Picture taken July 30, 2006. EDITORIAL USE ONLY REUTERS/MOD handout/Cpl Mike Fletcher (AFGHANISTAN)Cpl. Mike Fletcher / X80001

NATO officials said Friday that the market bombing apparently was aimed at a nearby NATO convoy.

Kang Sung-han, the spokesman for a group of South Korean Christians, denied allegations that the group — which had planned to stage a three-day sports and culture festival starting Saturday — had sought converts to Christianity.

Interior Ministry spokesman Yousef Stanezai said late Thursday the Koreans entered the country with tourist visas, but their activities showed they had a different agenda. “The program was against the Islamic culture and customs of Afghans,” he said.

However, on Friday, deputy interior minister Abdul Adhy Khalid softened the government’s stance, saying the Koreans were asked to leave because of security concerns sparked by rumors they were proselytizing. “They are welcome back any time,” Khalid said.

The Korean group, the Institute of Asian Culture and Development, said in a statement on its Web site that the event it had planned was a “goodwill sports and culture festival aimed at encouraging Afghan people rebuilding their country after the war.”

Threats, intimidation, violent attacks
Over the past week, a number of Muslim clerics and government officials alleged the South Koreans were seeking converts, behaving immorally, and should be thrown out of the country.

In Geneva, the U.N. children’s fund said Friday it was concerned about a rise in school burnings and other attacks in Afghanistan, calling them a threat to the country’s future.

“The children of Afghanistan have a right to education. Threats, intimidation and violent attacks on students in school undermine the very fabric of the future of Afghan society,” UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick said.

While UNICEF didn’t blame anyone, loyalists of the toppled Taliban regime, other Islamic militants and Afghan warlords are believed to be behind the attacks.

The U.N. agency said six children had died from the 60 school attacks it had recorded this year, a sixfold increase over 2005.

Last month, the group Human Rights Watch said it had documented 204 attacks on Afghan schools, teachers and students since January 2005. Afghan officials painted an even worse picture, saying militants had set fire to about 120 schools in the previous four months and forced 200 more to close by threatening teachers and students.