Tal­iban bomb­ing kills at least 21 in north­ern Afghanistan

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUL RAHIM

A Tal­iban at­tack killed at least 21 peo­ple in north­ern Afghanistan, of­fi­cials said Sun­day, af­ter a wave of lethal bomb­ings in the cap­i­tal as the in­sur­gency es­ca­lates fol­low­ing a bit­ter power tran­si­tion.

The Afghan in­te­rior min­istry said all those killed Satur­day evening in the Khan­abad dis­trict of Kun­duz province were civil­ians, although lo­cal of­fi­cials called them anti-Tal­iban mili­ti­a­men.

The Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, which comes af­ter a bar­rage of bomb­ings in Kabul killed at least 51 peo­ple on Fri­day, the dead­li­est day for the cap­i­tal in years.

“The in­ci­dent took place (when) a sui­cide bomber det­o­nated his sui­cide vest in Khan­abad dis­trict,” the in­te­rior min­istry said, strongly con­demn­ing the “heinous act.”

“The sui­cide at­tack ... re­sulted in mar­tyr­dom of 21 civil­ians and wound­ing of 10 oth­ers.”

But Ab­dul Wadood Wahidi, spokesman for the gover­nor of Kun­duz, said 22 mili­ti­a­men — in­clud­ing four of their com­man­ders — were killed by an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice.

Kun­duz is a volatile province where the Tal­iban re­cently came close to over­run­ning Kun­duz city, in the most alarm­ing threat to any pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal since the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion of Afghanistan.

The in­sur­gency has been rapidly spread­ing across the north from its tra­di­tional south­ern and eastern strongholds, with Afghan forces in­creas­ingly bat­tling the mil­i­tants on their own.

U.S.-led NATO forces ended their com­bat mis­sion in Afghanistan in De­cem­ber last year, although a 13,000-strong resid­ual force re­mains for train­ing and counter-ter­ror­ism oper­a­tions.

The bomb­ings on Fri­day in Kabul struck near an army com­plex, a po­lice academy and a U.S. spe­cial forces base, killing at least 51 peo­ple, of­fi­cials said.

They were the first ma­jor at­tacks since Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour was named as the new Tal­iban chief last week in an ac­ri­mo­nious power tran­si­tion af­ter the in­sur­gents con­firmed the death of long­time leader Mul­lah Omar.

The wave of vi­o­lence has un­der­scored Afghanistan’s volatile se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion amid a fal­ter­ing peace process and the po­tency of the Tal­iban in­sur­gency, de­spite it be­ing riven by grow­ing in­ter­nal di­vi­sions.

Ex­perts say the grow­ing num­ber of at­tacks demon­strates Mul­lah Man­sour’s at­tempt to boost his im­age among Tal­iban cadres and drive at­ten­tion away from in­ter­nal rifts over his lead­er­ship.

Sayed Sar­war Hus­saini, a po­lice spokesman in Kun­duz, also iden­ti­fied the vic­tims of Satur­day’s bomb­ing as armed mili­ti­a­men.

With Afghan forces suf­fer­ing record ca­su­al­ties as for­eign troops pull back, Kabul is in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing on in­for­mal mili­tias as a bul­wark against the in­sur­gents — a gam­bit observers say is akin to fight­ing fire with fire.

The mo­bi­liza­tion of mili­tias rep­re­sents a com­plete de­par­ture from pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment ef­forts to dis­arm these groups, blamed for dev­as­tat­ing Afghanistan dur­ing the civil war in the 1990s and set­ting the stage for a Tal­iban takeover.

It also lays bare the short­com­ings of the multi-bil­lion dol­lar U.S.-led ef­fort to de­velop self-re­liant Afghan forces, suf­fer­ing large daily ca­su­al­ties and strug­gling to rein in an as­cen­dant in­sur­gency on their own as the war ex­pands on mul­ti­ple fronts.

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