12 troops killed in Afghan attacks
7 Americans swell the toll, highest of year
KABUL, Afghanistan — Twelve foreign soldiers, including seven Americans, were killed in separate attacks on the deadliest day of the year for Western forces in Afghanistan. A US civilian contractor who trains Afghan police also died in a brazen suicide assault.
The bloodshed yesterday came as insurgents stepped up bombings and other attacks ahead of a major NATO operation in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar that Washington hopes will turn the tide of the nearly nine-year war.
Nearly half the NATO deaths — five Americans — occurred in a single blast in eastern Afghanistan, US spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks said without giving further details. It was a grim reminder the insurgents can strike throughout the country, not simply in the south, which has become the main focus of the US campaign.
Two other US troops were killed in separate attacks in the south: one in a bombing and the other by small-arms fire.
NATO said three other service members were killed in attacks in the east and south but gave no further details.
The French government announced one of the victims was a sergeant in the French Foreign Legion killed by a rocket in Kapisa province northeast of Kabul.
Three other Legionnaires were wounded.
Also yesterday, two Australian soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, Acting Defense Force Chief Lieutenant General David Hurley told reporters today.
“I think we’re just seeing a hard day in theater,’’ Hurley said. “There are a lot of troops in action, a lot going on at this present time, and this has just been a difficult day for us.’’
The American police trainer and a Nepalese security guard were killed when a team of three suicide bombers attacked the main gates of the police training center in the southern city of Kandahar, US officials said.
Afghan officials said one bomber blew a hole in the outer wall, enabling the two others to rush inside, where they were killed in a gun battle. Afghan officials said three police were wounded.
US commanders have warned of more casualties as the alliance gears up for a major operation to secure Kandahar, the former headquarters of the Taliban and the biggest city in the south with a half million people.
Last December, President Obama ordered 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the rise of the Taliban, who have bounced back since they were ousted from power in the 2001 US-led invasion. Obama has shifted the focus of the US campaign against Islamist terror to Afghanistan from Iraq, where the United States is expected to draw down to 50,000 troops by the fall.
As fighting escalates, the Afghan government is reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.
Last week, President Hamid Karzai won endorsement from a national conference, or peace jirga, for his plan to offer economic and other incentives to the militants to lay down their arms, and to seek talks with the Taliban leadership.
The leadership has so far publicly shunned the offer, and the United States is skeptical whether peace can succeed until the Taliban are weakened on the battlefield.
The Taliban have branded Karzai a US puppet and say there will be no talks while foreign troops are in Afghanistan.
Karzai’s decision Sunday to replace two of the country’s top security officials fueled speculation about divisions within the Afghan leadership over reaching out to the Taliban.
The government said the two officials were replaced because of an armed attack on the peace jirga, which caused no casualties among the delegates but embarrassed the Karzai administration.
Both officials had a long background of opposition to the Taliban. Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was a senior figure in the former Northern Alliance, which helped the United States oust the Taliban regime in 2001. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar fought mujahedeen opposed to the Soviet occupation.