KAFIR BAND, Afghanistan – Three bombings killed at least 19 people across Afghanistan on Monday, including four Canadian soldiers in an attack that tested NATO's claim of success in driving insurgents from this volatile southern region.
The deadliest attack, in the usually calm western city of Herat, killed 11 people and wounded 18 including the deputy police chief, officials said. Initially, officials said it was a suicide attack by a militant strapped with explosives and riding a motorbike.
But Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaking later Monday in New York where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly, said it was not a suicide attack as initial reports indicated. Karzai did not elaborate on how the attack did take place in his remarks to the Asia Society.
"It was not a suicide attack as I know now," he said.
A suicide car bombing in the capital Kabul killed at least four policemen and wounded one officer and 10 civilians.
Afghanistan has been suffering the heaviest insurgent attacks since the Taliban was toppled in late 2001, and the bombings came a day after NATO ended a two-week offensive against Taliban fighters in this region that the commander called a "significant success."
"It does appear that they are resorting to these despicable tactics after the pressure we have them under in their strongholds," a NATO spokesman, Maj. Luke Knittig, said in Kabul.
In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the lost soldiers.
"It's a tough mission, but the men and women of the Canadian Forces sign on for tough missions if they know they can do good in the world — that's what they're doing and ... they have the absolutely unwavering support of their government," he said.
NATO's Operation Medusa centered on southern Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, where the first of Monday's bombings killed four Canadian infantrymen delivering aid and wounded an unspecified number of other troops, the Canadian military said.
The suicide bombing was claimed by a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, in a telephone call to an Associated Press reporter.
NATO said 25 civilians also were wounded in the blast in Kafir Band, a clutch of mud-brick homes surrounded by grape and pomegranate orchards.
"Fifty to 60 soldiers were patrolling on the main street when a man on a bicycle stopped and blew himself up near the forces," said Fazel Mohammed, a farmer who lives near the blast site.
The explosion tore through the Canadian patrol, shredding uniforms and military equipment. Blood soaked into the dusty road, and the bomber's legs ended up near a gold-colored military patch torn from a soldier's uniform.
Four helicopters hovered over the village, and at least two landed to retrieve the wounded and dead soldiers, Mohammed said.
"This attack amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law," said Tom Koenigs, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan.
The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Richards, said the attack took place as Canadian troops were arranging aid, reconstruction and development for villagers in the district, which suffered heavy damage during the NATO offensive.
"It is beyond comprehension that a suicide bomber should choose this time to attack, knowing that he could kill innocent children," Richards said in a statement.
At least 36 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002. Five died during Operation Medusa, in which NATO estimated it killed at least 510 insurgents with airstrikes and ground assaults.
On Sunday, Richards called Operation Medusa a success and said NATO had reclaimed crucial territory from the Taliban.
Most of the village's 25 families fled the fighting and only the desperately poor stayed behind, Mohammed said.
"Taliban were in this village before, but now there are fewer remaining," said another villager, shopkeeper Jan Mohammed. "But if you kill 100 or 1,000 Taliban, another 1,000 will come to continue the fighting."
Most of the recent surge in violence has occurred in southern provinces, where some 8,000 NATO soldiers took over military operations from a U.S.-led coalition Aug. 1.
NATO commanders say they need 2,500 more soldiers, plus greater air support, to crush the Taliban threat more quickly.
The bombing in Herat and a string of recent attacks in neighboring Farah province indicate insurgents are spreading their deadly campaign out of the south into long quiet regions in Afghanistan's west.
Reacting to the recent spree of western attacks, Afghan and foreign troops launched an operation Monday in Farah, where a dozen Taliban and police were killed by insurgent raids last week.
Operation Wyconda Pincer involves Afghan soldiers and police along with U.S., Italian and Spanish troops, NATO said.
"This operation is in response to a growing number of terrorist acts that have occurred in recent weeks," said Cdr. Michael Horan, a NATO official in Farah.