Militants killed six police and five medical workers in separate attacks in southern Afghanistan, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the country and praised recent political progress there.
The police were killed by suspected Taliban rebels who ambushed their convoy in mountains in Uruzgan province Tuesday, the second major attack on the fledgling force in two days, local Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan said.
The attack on the medical workers occurred Wednesday near Kandahar city, a former Taliban stronghold, said doctor Abdul Qadir, the director of Afghan Help Development Services, a local aid group that employed the five.
Officials on Tuesday said that about 60 militants ambushed a police convoy late Monday, sparking a fierce gunbattle that left 19 officers dead.
Rice visits Afghanistan
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Afghanistan, praised political progress in the country four years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the repressive Taliban regime, and she brushed off rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in downtown Kabul that occurred overnight just hours before her arrival.
“It happens from time to time, so it doesn’t change our plans,” Rice said of the attacks, which wounded two people.
Afghanistan has seen more war then peace in recent decades, and much of the country is still in ruins. It also has installed a new and relatively stable democratic government and saw more than 6 million vote in largely smooth elections last month.
Concerns over drug trafficking
At the same time, rampant drug trafficking and rising insurgent violence imperils some of the democratic gains of U.S. ally, President Hamid Karzai.
“Violence is going to continue, but this is a place that has come a very long way,” Rice told reporters traveling with her from Kyrgyzstan.
At a news conference with Karzai, Rice said U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan “as long as they are needed and in whatever numbers they are needed” and added that the United States learned a lesson from allowing Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists before Sept. 11, 2001.
“We cannot simply defend ourselves,” she said. “We have to be on the offense.”
Karzai acknowledged the continued problem of insurgent violence in his country, but said it will not block progress toward democracy.
What could determine success or failure in the long term is Afghanistan’s response to drug trafficking on its soil, Karzai said.
“That will determine Afghanistan’s future as a state that stands on its own feet, a state that has the respect of the international community. ... or as a state that will collapse and fail and fall back into the hands of terrorism,” he said.
Neither Rice nor Karzai directly addressed whether they had privately discussed allegations that Karzai’s own government includes drug traffickers.
Rice met Karzai and others in Kabul before flying to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
Her route into Kabul from the airport took her past newly repaired buildings but also through a slalom course or heavy barricades, razor wire and gun towers that revealed the daily threat of bombings and rocket attacks.
About 1,400 people have been killed in Afghanistan since March in a campaign of violence that authorities blame on a resurgent Taliban.
On Monday, the U.S. military announced its 201st fatality in and around Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces invaded in late 2001 to oust the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. This year has been the deadliest yet for the 21,000-strong, U.S.-led coalition force, with 85 soldiers killed.
Before meeting with Afghan officials, Rice said NATO and the United States will review military plans in light of Afghanistan’s political development, “but they’ll be reviewed with an eye to what remains to be done.”