KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A roadside bomb struck a family traveling home after visiting a shrine Friday in southern Afghanistan, killing five people, including four children.
The blast occurred in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar, near the Pakistan border, a day after a suicide bombing killed as many as 20 people at a crowded bazaar in Dihrawud in Uruzgan province, underscoring the dangers facing civilians as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan.
Those killed Friday included the mother, three boys and a girl, according to Abdul Razaq, a local border security commander. He said the father and another male relative were wounded.
Police believe the family's vehicle wasn't targeted but hit a land mine meant for police or other officials who are frequently attacked by insurgents, according to Razaq.
Afghan civilians have increasingly been caught in the middle as violence increases with an influx of U.S. and other foreign forces aimed at routing the Taliban.
A U.N. report this week showed that Taliban suicide bombings and other attacks caused Afghan civilian deaths to soar last year to the highest annual level of the war, to 2,412 — a 14 percent increase over the 2,118 who died in 2008. Nearly 70 percent of those were caused by insurgents.
The Afghan government has been reaching out to Taliban insurgents willing to renounce violence, offering jobs, vocational training and other economic incentives to entice them away from the fight.
Nine Taliban fighters, including a commander identified as Nasir Ahmad, surrendered their weapons late Thursday to authorities in eastern Kunar province, according to the provincial governor. They turned in one rocket-propelled grenade, four AK-47s and ammunition.
NATO forces assisted, taking biometric information such as fingerprints. The ex-insurgents will be monitored for a period as they are integrated back into society, spokesman Lt. Nico Melendez said. The men also promised to renounce violence and pledged loyalty to the Afghan government.
Gov. Sayed Fazelullah Wahidi said it was the first group to surrender in Kunar, although other cases have been reported elsewhere.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest quarterly report on Afghanistan reported that 57 insurgents had surrendered to authorities in Herat province, 12 in Kunduz, 26 in Paktika, 24 in Ghazni and 51 in Baghlan.
Those surrendering on Thursday would be given jobs in construction and cleaning canals as part of a $6 million U.S. reconstruction contract, Wahidi said, adding the commander would help with reconciliation efforts.
A new reconciliation program, which aims at reaching out to 20,000 to 35,000 low- to mid-level Taliban insurgents, will be discussed at a Jan. 28 conference on Afghanistan in London. The Taliban leadership has rejected the concept so long as foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.
Five Afghan civilians also were wounded Thursday when Afghan and NATO forces fired warning shots to disperse a crowd of 200 to 400 people marching toward the checkpoint at the entrance of a military base in a southern area — the site of recent anger at international troops.
NATO said Friday the shots were fired after people in the crowd ignored warnings to keep a distance from Combat Outpost Sher in the Garmsir district of Helmand province. It said one individual struck members of the combined force with a stick.
The incident came three days after six people were reportedly killed after a protest over the purported desecration of a Koran turned violent in the area. NATO has denied the allegation and said armed insurgents were among the protesters. One started shooting, and NATO forces returned fire and killed the militant.
Officials have blamed the Taliban for the unrest, claiming militants spread false rumors, then organized Tuesday's protest.
NATO troops also killed two people and detained four others as three motorcycles sped toward a patrol that had been struck by a roadside bomb in Kandahar. No casualties were reported in the initial attack, but the international force said those on the motorcycles ignored warnings to stop, raising fears of another strike.
Separately, an MQ-1 Predator drone crashed Friday afternoon in southern Afghanistan, but the U.S. Air Force said hostile fire was not the cause. The Air Force said the crash site was secured and no civilian casualties or damage to civilian property was reported. The crash would be investigated.
The United States has unleashed an unprecedented number of missile attacks by unmanned drones across the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan over the last two weeks, including one Thursday that officials said killed 12 alleged militants at a meeting of Taliban commanders. The drones also are used for surveillance.