Afghan security forces killed 25 suspected insurgents during a clash Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, while a suicide bombing targeting a NATO convoy wounded one civilian, officials said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. military official claimed American troops on Afghanistan’s eastern border have seen a threefold increase in attacks since a recent truce between Pakistani troops and pro-Taliban tribesmen that was supposed to have stopped cross-border raids by the militants.
The peace agreement, which followed a June 25 cease-fire, also has contributed to the Taliban’s resurgence, the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Since the truce, ethnic Pashtun rebels are no longer fighting Pakistani troops but are using the North Waziristan border region as a control hub for launching attacks in Afghanistan, the official told The Associated Press.
Insurgents attacked a police checkpoint in southern Helmand province’s Garmser district, the NATO-led force said. In the ensuing clash, “at least 25 insurgents” were killed, according to the alliance.
The suicide attack in neighboring Kandahar province wounded a civilian and damaged a military vehicle, police official Abdul Ali Khan said.
An explosive also hit a military vehicle in western Herat province, wounding three Italian soldiers with the NATO force and their Afghan translator, the Italian Defense Ministry said.
Afghan, Pakistan leaders in U.S.
The violence came hours before Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were to join President Bush for dinner at the White House.
Karzai and Musharraf have been at odds recently over each country’s efforts to hunt terrorists and to stop them from crossing their shared border, especially in tribal areas, and wage attacks in Afghanistan.
Cross-border incursions also were likely to be high on the agenda.
Pakistani tribal elders brokered the truce between Pakistan’s government and militants and an accord was signed Sept. 5, ending years of unrest in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Under the deal, the militants agreed to halt attacks on Pakistani forces in semiautonomous North Waziristan and to stop crossing into nearby eastern Afghanistan to attack U.S. and Afghan forces, who are hunting al-Qaida and Taliban forces there.
But the agreement appears to have empowered Taliban infiltrators rather than slowing the incursions, with the number of attacks in eastern Afghan provinces rising threefold since July 31, the U.S. official said.
Southern Afghanistan is bearing the brunt of clashes and suicide bombings, the worst outbreak of violence since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban-led regime in late 2001. Militants have increasingly resorted to the use of roadside and suicide bombings against foreign and Afghan government forces.
A suicide bomber killed 18 people outside a provincial governor’s compound in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Tuesday, and a bomb attack on a NATO patrol just outside Kabul killed an Italian soldier and a child.
Violent extremists have also been targeting Afghan officials, including eastern Paktia province’s governor — a friend of Karzai’s — who was killed in a Sept. 10 suicide bombing. A women’s rights activist, who was the Kandahar provincial director for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was killed Monday in a drive-by shooting.
The head of Australia’s defense force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said that once the threat of the Taliban and other insurgents has been curbed, the focus must turn to rebuilding “to create circumstances where we can give the people of Afghanistan hope for the future.”
Houston said in the capital of Canberra that this was achievable, but will likely take a long time.
“It’s probably going to take in the order of 10 years,” he said.
Apparent key figure captured
In eastern Afghanistan, U.S.-led coalition troops detained an alleged bomb-maker and “terrorist cell leader” in Kunar province, a coalition statement said.
The suspect manufactured improvised explosive devices, planted them and planned attacks against coalition and Afghan troops, the coalition said.
The alleged bomber, whose identity was not disclosed, was detained in an operation south of Kunar province’s capital of Asadabad, the statement said. No coalition or Afghan troops suffered casualties.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his country’s elite combat troops risked becoming overworked in trouble spots around the world, in his latest comments defending his decision to withdraw them from Afghanistan.
Australia is sending 400 more troops to Afghanistan, mostly military engineers to work on reconstruction projects in the south, doubling the size of its deployment there. But it is withdrawing about 200 Special Air Service troops and commandos who have been in Afghanistan for the past year.