Afghanistan blast kills 6 children on their way to school

A suicide bomber who was apparently trying to assassinate a government official instead killed six children who were on their way to school Monday in volatile Kandahar province.

The blast, in the Dand district west of Kandahar city, was in keeping with a pattern of insurgent attacks against Afghan government officials and tribal elders, particularly in the south. Many such assaults kill and wound bystanders instead.

The explosion took place about 9 a.m., as people were on their way to work, including the bomber’s apparent target, district government chief Hamadullah Nazak. Schoolchildren were also out on the street when the blast tore through a busy market area in the village of Gohsi Khan.

Five of the children were killed instantly, and the sixth died later, said Zalmay Ayubi, a provincial spokesman. Three students were injured.

Ayubi said all were under the age of 10.

Nazak was not hurt, though a bodyguard was wounded. There were conflicting reports as to whether a second explosion took place, from a bomb planted nearby.

Such attacks have become increasingly common around Kandahar, the hub of the south and the birthplace of the militant Taliban movement. NATO forces are carrying out a two-pronged operation meant to push insurgents from Kandahar city’s outlying districts and bring better governance and more services to the populace.

The insurgents have responded with a concerted drive to assassinate local and provincial Afghan officials and Afghans working with foreign contractors or aid agencies.

In the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, militants struck a convoy carrying presidential advisor Wahidullah Sabaoon, setting off a bomb concealed in an auto-rickshaw. Sabaoon was injured, but not seriously, as were six members of his entourage, said Ahmad Zia Abdul, a spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial government.

Amid the backdrop of rising violence, the new commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, has issued new counterinsurgency guidelines for troops.

Like his predecessor, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Petraeus emphasized that harming civilians runs counter to the aims of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force.

“If we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate,” Petraeus wrote. “That’s exactly what the Taliban want. Don’t fall into their trap.”

There has been speculation that Petraeus would loosen tight restrictions on troops’ use of airstrikes and artillery when there is a possibility that civilians are present. There was no mention of any such revision in the rules released Monday, but Petraeus said the new guidelines were the first in a series, which left open the possibility he might do so later.