Afghan District Chief Killed in Strike on Compound

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan district chief was killed Monday in a bomb blast targeting a security meeting in a key eastern city, the latest in a series of brazen but largely unsuccessful insurgent attacks in the volatile region.

Lal Pur district head Syad Mohammad Palawan died when a bomb planted on his car exploded as he was driving into a government compound to attend a meeting of provincial security and political leaders in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, said police spokesman Ghafor Khan.

Insurgents apparently planned for the bomb to explode inside the compound where it could potentially have caused far greater destruction, Khan said.

Three of Palawan's bodyguards were wounded, Khan said, while the Interior Ministry put the figure at five.

The attack followed a failed assault on two coalition bases in nearby Khost province Saturday, in which more than 30 insurgents were killed. The attacks indicate that militant activity is rising in parts of the east, as coalition forces focus resources on Taliban strongholds in the south.

Security in eastern Afghanistan is critical because the region includes the capital, Kabul, which the insurgents have sought to surround and isolate from the rest of the country. Jalalabad also lies just 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of the Pakistan border, where militants maintain safe havens from which to plan attacks and infiltrate foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida across the rugged mountains.

Shutting down such sanctuaries has been a key demand of the government of President Hamid Karzai, who on Saturday renewed his criticism of coalition strategy in fighting Afghanistan's stubborn insurgency -- part of a pattern of greater outspokenness by the Afghan leader as he appeals for support among the beleaguered Afghan public.

In a meeting with visiting German Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert, Karzai said there was a "serious need" to alter strategy against the Taliban and other groups linked to al-Qaida, the presidential office said.

"There should be a review of the strategy in the fight against terrorism, because the experience of the last eight years showed that the fight in the villages of Afghanistan has been ineffective apart from causing civilian casualties," Karzai was quoted as saying.

Karzai has in the past argued Afghan forces should take the lead in operations to root out insurgents and win support from deeply conservative villagers who harbor a long tradition of suspicion of outsiders. He says personal contact between coalition forces and villagers only breeds resentment, although most Afghan police and soldiers are drawn from northern Uzbeks and Tajiks who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Pashtuns who make up the core of Taliban support.

Last week, Karzai also criticized the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July and said the fight against terrorism cannot succeed as long as the Taliban and their allies maintain safe havens in Pakistan.

Karzai's comments contradict statements from coalition commanders that an increase in numbers of foreign forces to more than 140,000 has turned the momentum of recent Taliban advances. Along with more troops has come a surge in fighting that has so far left 62 coalition troops dead this month, including 42 Americans.

In other operations, NATO said combined coalition and Afghan forces detained several suspected Taliban in Kandahar province, including regional commanders and bomb-makers, as well as insurgents involved in Saturday's attacks on Forward Operating Base Salerno and Camp Chapman in Khost. Chapman was the scene of a suicide attack in December that killed seven CIA employees.

Elsewhere, Afghanistan's Defense Ministry reported four soldiers were killed and another wounded Sunday in a roadside bombing in Wardak province. A fifth Afghan soldier was killed and another hurt in a bombing in Helmand province's Nad Ali district.

In the southeastern province of Zabul, 24 Taliban traveling by truck and motorcycle were captured while trying to cross the border into Pakistan, said provincial government spokesman Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar.