A suicide bomber on a bicycle attacked Canadian troops handing out sweets to children in southern Afghanistan today, killing four Nato soldiers and wounding many others, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast.
The attack in Kandahar province’s Panjwayi district came a day after Nato declared an end to a two-week offensive aimed at driving Taliban militants out of safe havens in the same area. More than 500 insurgents were reported killed in the Canadian-led operation, which Nato described as a success despite continuing violence in the south.
Maj Luke Knittig, a Nato spokesman, said the blast killed four Nato soldiers and “wounded a number of others, including civilians.” Knittig declined to release the nationalities nor identities of the slain soldiers.
Nato also issued a statement saying “multiple” casualties had been inflicted and that the victims were rushed to a military hospital.
An Afghan official said the bomber targeted Canadian troops handing out sweets to children and killed and wounded dozens of people.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who claims to be a spokesman for Taliban affairs in southern Afghanistan, said the bomber was an Afghan from Kandahar named Mullah Qudrat Ullah.
Ahmadi, whose exact ties to the militants are not known, said militants would continue attacking US, Nato and other coalition forces.
Most of Afghanistan’s recent surge in violence has taken place in volatile southern provinces, where some 8,000 Nato forces took military control from the US-led coalition on August 1.
Nato commanders say they need another 2,500 troops plus greater air support to crush the Taliban threat more quickly.
Police also clashed with suspected insurgents in neighbouring Helmand province yesterday, killing 13 suspected Taliban and wounding four, said Ghulam Nabil Malakheil, the provincial police chief.
Police recovered the dead militants’ bodies, including that of Mullah Mohammed Akhunzada, a known Taliban commander, scattered throughout orchards in the Gereshk district village of Hawasa, Malakheil said. The insurgents took the wounded with them.
The officers also recovered 12 AK-47 assault rifles, three heavy machine-guns and six rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
Separately, two police were killed and their vehicle destroyed when they were attacked by a roadside bomb yesterday morning in the same district, said Ghulam Muhiddin, the Helmand governor spokesman. He blamed the Taliban.
The violence comes a day after a top Nato general declared an end to Operation Medusa in Panjwayi and neighbouring Zhari districts.
Lt Gen David Richards, head of the 20,000 Nato-led force in Afghanistan, described the operation as a “significant success.” Richards said the insurgents had been forced to abandon their positions and reconstruction and development efforts would soon begin in the volatile former Taliban heartland.
The insurgents had “suffered significant casualties” and “had no choice but to leave,” Richards said.
But in an apparent attempt to open a new front, some 400 Taliban crossed into the western Farah province and took control of its Gulistan district after chasing away police forces based there, said Gen Sayed Agha Saqeb, the provincial police chief.
The militants, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns, burnt the district headquarters and a local clinic, he said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
“We are hoping government will send more troops, because there are too many Taliban in the area,” Saqeb said.
Nato officials have said that they were aware of the growing insurgent threat in western Farah province and would send more forces there to try crush the violence if it continued to get out of hand.