Suicide bombers launched multiple attacks in a remote corner
of southwestern Afghanistan near the Iranian border Tuesday,
killing dozens of people including shoppers buying sweets for a
Muslim holiday and leaving charred and smoldering bits of
cookies and dried fruit among the bodies on the ground.
A separate market bombing, this one in northern Afghanistan,
brought the overall death toll to 46, most of whom were
civilians. It was the deadliest day for Afghan civilians this
The attacks in provinces on opposite ends of the country –
Nimroz in the southwest and Kunduz in the north - come as
Taliban insurgents and their allies step up their assaults in a
display of force that often results in civilian carnage.
Militants are especially trying to weaken the still-developing
Afghan security forces, who are to assume control of security
across their homeland in 28 months when most foreign combat
troops will have left.
“The Taliban “want to expand their influence – show that they
are everywhere,” said Afghan political analyst Jawid Kohistani.
“They want to show that the Afghan police are not strong enough
so they are targeting the security forces and the government.”
The scope of the attacks in Nimroz, which has seen relatively
few insurgent attacks over the past year, was surprising. The
bombings took place in the provincial capital, Zaranj, where
militants wearing suicide vests detonated their explosives in
various neighborhoods, provincial police chief Musa Rasouli
said. At least 25 civilians and 11 police were killed, he said.
The Nimroz provincial capital lies about 6 miles (10
kilometers) from the Iranian border. Police arrested three
attackers who later apparently confessed that they were from
Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province
near the Afghan border, according to Sadeq Chakhansori, a member
of the Nimroz provincial council. The significance of this was
not immediately clear.
Authorities said the casualties would have been far higher
had they not learned of the plot beforehand. Police killed two
potential attackers Monday night and captured three more Tuesday
morning. But they could not catch them all.
Rasouli said three suicide bombers detonated their explosive
vests, including one in front of a television station and
another at an intersection in a bazaar. Most of the casualties,
however, were from a bombing in a shopping bazaar in front of a
civilian hospital. The area was crowded with shoppers from the
city and outlying areas who were buying dried fruit, cookies and
other sweets for the coming Muslim holiday of Eid.
“It was very powerful,” Rasouli said. “Everywhere there was
smoke. With my eyes, I saw the dead bodies.”
The bodies, wrapped in blood-stained sheets, were ferried off
in ambulances and pickup trucks. The legs of two victims hung
off the back of a small truck that sped away with a long sheet
dragging behind in the dusty road. Police fired bullets into the
air to clear crowds from the scene.
“We cannot carry on with our daily lives,” Sayed Ahmad said,
lying on a bed in a hospital where he was being treated for
injuries. “People are scared and cannot go out of their houses,”
he said. “We don’t know what to do.”
Three more attackers, also clad in explosive vests, tried to
strike the governor’s house, but Afghan police killed them
before they were able to blow themselves up.
“We took off their suicide vests – very carefully, very
professionally – after we killed them,” Rasouli said. “They had
no chance, the police bullets rained on them.”
The sparsely populated province is partly desert and is not
regularly beset by insurgent attacks as are Helmand and Kandahar
provinces to the east. Recently, however, Nimroz has seen an
increase in violence. On Saturday, an Afghan police officer
killed 11 of his fellow officers in the remote Dilaram district
of the province.
Tuesday’s other major attack, in northern Kunduz province,
involved a bomb on a motorcycle that was parked outside a
crowded bazaar in Archi district. The attack killed at least 10
people, including five children, and wounded at least 25 others,
according to Hamid Agha, the police chief for Archi district.
Altogether, at least 35 civilians were killed in the attacks
in the two provinces, making Tuesday the deadliest day for
Afghan civilians this year.
“What we saw today were further acts of intentional mass
murder,” said Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and
NATO forces in Afghanistan. “By targeting innocent civilians in
populated areas, the insurgents have again shown they will kill
non-combatants without hesitation to advance their
backward-looking plans for Afghanistan. Once again, I call on
(Afghan Taliban leader) Mullah Omar to rein in his murderers.
His intentions not to target civilians are hollow,” Allen said
in a statement.
In past statements, Omar has asked his fighters to avoid
civilian casualties. In one message in 2010, for instance, he
said: “Pay attention to the life and property of the civilians
so that ... your jihad activities will not become a cause for
destruction of property and loss of life of people.”
The U.N. reported last week that civilian deaths were lower
in the first six months of 2012 than in the first half of 2011,
but that an onslaught of summer attacks from insurgents were
threatening to reverse that trend. In all, 1,145 civilians were
killed in Afghanistan between January and June of this year,
according to the U.N. report.
On June 6, a car bomb and a motorcycle bomb killed 22 people
near Kandahar airport in the volatile south. Another suicide
attack July 14 on a wedding killed 23 people, including the
provincial intelligence chief and two army generals.