A suspected Taliban bomb attack killed 11 civilians, including children and toddlers, going to a shrine in Afghanistan on Friday, police said following a surge of attacks ahead of key elections. The explosives ripped through a civilian pick-up vehicle taking a group of men, women and children to visit a centuries-old tomb in Spin Boldak district in Kandahar province, just a few kilometres from the Pakistani border.
"Three women, three men and five children were killed," Gen. Saifullah Hakim, a senior border police official, told AFP. "All of them were civilians. They were going to a shrine when their vehicle was hit by a newly planted bomb," he added. Police said three women were wounded and evacuated to hospital. "Today at around 9:00 am, a mini-van struck a roadside bomb in the Wanaki area of Spin Boldak," Gen. Abdul Raziq, border police chief for Zabul and Kandahar provinces, told AFP, confirming the death toll.
"Three (of the dead) children were between one and two years old. The other two were aged around five," he said. There was no claim of responsibility, but police blamed the attack on "enemies of the country" - a term used to refer to the Taliban, Islamist hardliners leading an insurgency against the Afghan government. Officers, quoting witness reports from the remote desert area, said the force of the blast ripped many of victims to pieces and that the death toll was calculated after pieces of flesh were collected from the site.
Roadside bombs are the deadliest weapon used by insurgents fighting against Afghan and Western forces, but also routinely kill and maim civilians. Mr Raziq speculated that border police may have been the intended target of Friday's blast because there was a border police post on the same road. Afghanistan's nearly eight-year-old insurgency is currently at its deadliest, promting the US to dispatch an extra 21,000 soldiers in a bid to stabilise the country ahead of presidential and provincial council elections on August 20.
President Hamid Karzai is standing for re-election, but the spike in attacks has raised fears of violence disrupting the vote. The Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001 until they were ousted by a US-led invasion, are fighting to regain control of the vast, predominantly rural country and oust foreign troops. On July 9, a truck rigged with explosives blew up near Kabul, killing 25 people, including school students, in one of the deadliest blasts this year.
July has become the deadliest month for foreign troops fighting in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion, as Taliban guerrillas hone techniques copied from Iraq and Westerners struggle in a harsh climate. The independent website icasualties.org, which calculates military losses in Afghanistan and Iraq, put the number of dead in the Afghan war at 47 so far this July, topping previously month records of 46 in June and August 2008.
In less than seven months, 203 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan, compared to 294 in 2008, 232 in 2007 and 191 in 2006. Just 12 soldiers died in 2001, when US-led troops invaded and launched the US-led global war on terror. Nearly 4,000 US Marines this month launched a major operation in Taliban strongholds in the Helmand, which neighbours Kandahar and where an estimated 3,000 British troops have also launched an offensive further north.