15 dead, 24 injured in Afghan bombings

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Civilians bore the brunt of insurgent violence in a series of attacks Friday and Saturday that killed at least 15 people and injured 24, Afghan officials said.

The bombings took place in the south and the northern province of Kunduz, both home to the Pashtun plurality fueling the Taliban insurgency against NATO troops and the Afghan government.

In the most deadly attack, a roadside bomb struck a pickup truck loaded with Afghan men Friday morning in a rural stretch of Helmand province, killing 15, Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor, disclosed Saturday.

A car bomb explosion set off early Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Information and Culture directorate in the southern provincial capital of Kandahar injured four police officers and two youths, said Zalmay Ayoubi, spokesman for the governor.

“The enemies of peace and the people have lost the ability to fight against the government, and now they want to terrorize the public by committing such criminal acts just to show their existence,” said a statement issued by the governor’s office.

In Kunduz on Saturday, a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden car attacked an Afghan national army checkpoint, injuring five soldiers and nine civilians in nearby homes, mostly women and children, said Muhbullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the governor.

Protecting civilian lives has become a key component of the United States-led international force’s counterinsurgency strategy. Deteriorating security erodes the Afghan civilians’ trust in the central government and its armed forces.

The U.S. hopes the Afghan national army and police force will be competent enough to secure the country and tamp down a resurgent Taliban once international troops begin to depart in coming years. But attempts at political reconciliation between the central government and the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, appear to have stalled.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told reporters in Kabul on Wednesday that a massive U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan was showing results.

After a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he told reporters he would return to Washington believing Afghanistan will be ready for a U.S. troop drawdown by 2014, as set out by President Obama.

Meanwhile, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been hospitalized for tests, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday. He did not disclose further details.

Special correspondents Aimal Yaqubi and Hashmat Baktash in Kabul contributed to this report.