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UN says most Afghan suicide attackers sought and trained in Pakistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - More than 80 percent of suicide bombers in Afghanistan are recruited and trained in neighboring Pakistan, the United Nations said in a report today that showed attacks running at record levels this year.

Most of the suicide bombers are poor, young, and uneducated, and many are Afghan nationals, according to the report, which was based on interviews with failed attackers, other militants, and security officials.

But the report also stressed the role of refugee camps and Islamic schools in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan in the recruitment and training of the bombers.

"The phenomenon of suicide attacks in Afghanistan is inherently linked to a variety of structures and institutions across the border in Pakistan," it said, noting that more than 80 percent of the bombers passed through training facilities in the Waziristan region of the country.

"Without dedicated efforts to destroy safe havens and bastions of support across the border, violence in Afghanistan is unlikely to disappear," the report said.

Pakistan, which has also experienced a recent surge in suicide attacks, acknowledges that Taliban fighters have sought refuge on its side of the border, and the government has deployed tens of thousands of troops there to uproot them.

Last month, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, told Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders they must cooperate to find a solution to the region's growing violence.

"Afghanistan is not under fire alone now," Karzai told the leaders. "Unfortunately our Pakistani brothers are also under fire, and this fire, day by day, is getting hotter."

Suicide attacks have emerged as a key tactic in an increasingly bloody insurgency by Taliban militants against foreign troops and Karzai's US-backed government.

In 2006, there were 123 recorded suicide attacks in Afghanistan, up from just 17 the year before, the report said. There were 103 attacks as of the end of August this year, putting 2007 on course to set a benchmark, the UN said.

The targets of such attacks have been exclusively military or government in nature, but 80 percent of the 183 victims until June this year were civilian, the report said.

The report also said the bombs were not claiming more lives per attack, suggesting little sustained innovation in technique. It said this contradicted a widely repeated assessment that expertise from Iraqi insurgents was being imported into Afghanistan.

The report's authors interviewed 23 jailed people who had been convicted or were awaiting trial in connection with attempted or failed suicide attacks.

Many of the interview subjects said they had been angered by the behavior of US and other NATO forces.

"All affairs are done by the Americans and other foreigners," said Munir, a 19-year-old Afghan quoted in the report who said he was arrested after planning a car bomb attack. "They are invaders. The war against them is jihad."

Another prisoner, 16-year-old Ghulam, said he was drugged and offered money to take part in a mission. "They kept saying I would not be killed," he was quoted as saying. "They also said that if I didn't do what they say I would go to hell."

The report urged Western forces to prevent civilian casualties, avoid conducting humiliating property searches, and, if possible, deploy troops from Muslim nations as ways to blunt Taliban support. "The first line of defense consists of understanding and removing 'root causes' that create demand for terrorism," the report said.

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