Suicide bombings in Kandahar kill 30

By Noor Khan and Kathy Gannon
Associated Press / March 14, 2010

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide squad detonated bombs at a newly fortified prison, police headquarters, and two other locations late yesterday, killing at least 30 people in the largest city of the southern Taliban heartland.

The prison was the main target, but no prisoners escaped, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother said. Ahmed Wali Karzai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, said two of the explosions occurred near his home.

Wali Karzai said in a phone interview that Canadian troops had reinforced the prison with concrete blocks after a suicide attack in 2008 blew apart the prison gates and freed hundreds of criminals and suspected insurgents.

“They wanted to keep people busy in the city and break the prison, but the Canadians last time did a good job,’’ Wali Karzai said. “They did a lot of reconstruction so they couldn’t break the prison this time.’’

One suicide attack struck at the front gate of the Kandahar police headquarters, causing casualties, he said.

“There are a lot of civilian causalities,’’ Wali Karzai said. “There are houses that have collapsed and businesses and people are still under the rubble. There was a wedding hall near the police headquarters and there was a wedding. A lot of casualties there from the explosions.’’

He said at least 30 people were killed and another 47 people were injured. Kandahar has a population of 800,000 and is the capital of Kandahar Province, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban movement.

US, NATO, and Afghan forces are planning an offensive in Kandahar Province later this year, a follow-up to an ongoing military operation in neighboring Helmand Province. Thousands of troops worked for three weeks to seize control of the district of Marja from the Taliban.

The Marja offensive is the first test of top Afghanistan commander US General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy to rout insurgents from areas, set up new governance, and rush in development aid in hopes of winning the loyalty of the residents.

Wali Karzai said local intelligence officials were tipped to the attacks in Kandahar.

Kandahar Mayor Gulam Hamidi scrambled to send equipment to the explosion sites.

“Several buildings have collapsed, some houses, and some shops,’’ he said. “I am sending my equipment to help the police to try to dig through the rubble.’’

His daughter Ragina Hamidi, who runs a small women’s-only business in Kandahar, said she heard one small explosion followed by two larger ones and then a fourth.

Meanwhile yesterday, President Karzai backed off from a much-criticized move to control the previously independent monitoring body for upcoming parliamentary elections, offering to allow two foreigners on the commission.

Democracy advocates welcomed Karzai’s decision but said more must be done to avoid a repeat of last year’s presidential vote, which was marred by widespread ballot-stuffing accusations.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar, who announced the decision yesterday, denied it was made under diplomatic pressure but said the president made the concession because the country is in a “transitional phase’’ to democracy.

The controversy over last year’s elections threatened the legitimacy of the Afghan government just as NATO made a workable administration the centerpiece of a new counterinsurgency strategy to salvage the eight-year-old war against the Taliban. Foreign nations with troops in the country are pushing for cleaner parliamentary polls to mitigate the damage.

Last month, Karzai signed a decree allowing him to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission in consultation with parliamentary leaders and the head of the Supreme Court. The watchdog body previously had three UN appointees.