KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A homicide car bomber attacked a Canadian armored vehicle Monday, killing two soldiers a day before NATO leaders gather in Europe for a summit that will focus on the strengthening Taliban insurgency here.
A new report, meanwhile, found that despite recent advances in the country's education system, more than half of Afghan children still do not attend school and only one in 20 girls go to secondary school.
The homicide bomber attacked a convoy of military vehicles traveling from the main NATO base in Kandahar to the Panjwayi district, an area that's seen heavy fighting between NATO and the Taliban the last several months.
"The Taliban cannot defeat us militarily in the field and so from time to time they resort to these very desperate measures," said Brig. Gen. Tim Grant, commander of the Canadian mission in Kandahar. "This was the home where the Taliban movement started. It makes sense the Taliban want to fight here."
A large eight-wheeled armored vehicle was struck in the attack. Shortly after the bombing, a Black Hawk helicopter landed in the middle of the road and four NATO troops carried one of the Canadian causalities into the chopper.
The deaths bring to 44 the number of Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan, including 36 this year alone, the majority of which occurred after the troops moved into the volatile south earlier this summer.
The attack comes one day after a suicide bomber killed 15 Afghans and wounded 24 in a crowded restaurant in southeast Afghanistan.
The spike in violence follows a period of relative calm in Afghanistan. There have been several attempted suicide strikes in the last several weeks, but most missed their intended targets, killing only the bombers.
The Canadian deaths come one day before a NATO summit opens in Riga, Latvia, where 26 presidents and prime ministers will focus on Afghanistan and the rising violence here that has killed more than 3,700 people this year.
NATO officials here said the Taliban was likely trying to increase their attacks before the summit.
"They are probably aware of the Riga summit and the sensitivities around it and about the issues of debate there," said Lt. Cmdr. Kris Phillips, a Canadian spokesman. "This will have no impact in our operations"
A new report from the development organization Oxfam, meanwhile, said 5 million children now attend school in Afghanistan, up from less than a million during the rule of the hard-line Taliban. But 7 million children still do not attend any classes.
Girls in particular are losing out, with just one in five attending primary school and one in 20 attending secondary school, the report said.
The reappearance of girls in schools has been hailed as a major success in Afghanistan's reconstruction since the ouster of the Taliban regime, which did not allow any schooling for girls. But militants opposed to girls' education have attacked more than 150 schools this year, forcing school administrators to close schools or step up security.
Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan's education minister, said Afghanistan's conservative traditions are no longer the main reason girls don't go to school. He said 90 percent of girls who don't go to school stay at home because of a lack of female teachers, because they live too far from school or because of precarious security.
"Only 10 percent (stay home) because of social barriers and poverty, because these girls are expected to work at home," he said.
The report said just 17 percent of Afghanistan's teachers have schooling beyond the 12th grade.
"Those children who are lucky enough to be in school must endure untrained teachers, inadequate school buildings and poor textbooks," said Grace Ommer, head of Oxfam GB's operations in Afghanistan.
One obstacle to improving education is teacher pay. The average teacher makes only US$50 a month. The report recommended more training and pay for teachers and an influx of funds from donor organizations. It said schools should provide a midday snack to entice students to attend class.