7,000 Police Blanket Kabul Before Independence Day

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Afghan police ordered 7,000 officers onto the streets of Kabul to guard against attacks on senior leaders during Independence Day celebrations Monday, responding to signs of the Taliban's growing strength near the capital.

Even the location of the celebration of Afghanistan's 89th anniversary of independence from Britain was kept secret and was to remain closed to the public to try to minimize the risk insurgents could again disrupt a national commemoration.

In April, gunmen in a rented hotel room fired on Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in Kabul as he sat in the review stands. Karzai escaped injury, but the attack killed three people, including a lawmaker.

Taliban violence has spiked across Afghanistan in recent days, including an ambush on a NATO convoy on Sunday, attacks on police checkpoints and a roadside bomb targeting a police convoy. More than 90 people were killed over four days — most of them reportedly Taliban insurgents.

Kabul so far has been spared the violence afflicting much of Afghanistan, but there are signs the Taliban and other militant groups have gained a foothold in neighboring provinces. And the capital suffered spectacular bomb attacks this year against an international hotel and the Indian Embassy.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said more than 5,000 extra police were drafted for what he described as the biggest operation of its kind in Kabul since 2001, when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government.

The Interior Ministry said the capital's police would search buildings and cars to "prevent any disruptive actions by the enemy."

A lawmaker from Kandahar who is critical of Karzai's government said the police deployment will not make the public feel any safer in the long term.

"Unless they bring some comprehensive changes in the security, this deployment will not affect people's confidence," Khalid Pashtun said.

Pashtun said there has been a steady increase in kidnappings, robberies and other crimes this year.

"People are afraid to leave their house after 7 p.m.," he said.

Police recruit Farid Ahmad, 22, was among those deployed near a wide avenue where gunmen shot at Karzai in April.

"I am still a student, but this was an order from the commander of the academy that we should come out and search the vehicles," he said.

In an ambush last week, insurgents wielding assault rifles gunned down three female aid workers about an hour's drive south of Kabul.

To the west, insurgents have been regularly attacking U.S.-led coalition and NATO supply convoys, burning fuel trucks and killing NATO and coalition soldiers.

Afghan and NATO officials insist that the nearly seven-year effort to bring stability to Afghanistan is progressing.

Overall, insurgent attacks jumped by 50 percent in the first half of 2008 from the previous year, according to recent data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a Kabul-based group that advises relief groups on security.

More than 3,200 people — mostly militants — have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

Most of the violence is concentrated in the south and east, where Taliban sympathies run strongest and militant bases in neighboring Pakistan are closer.