Insurgents attack in Kandahar in south Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The powerful half brother of President Hamid Karzai urged the international aid community not to pull out of the troubled southern city of Kandahar, where insurgents attacked Tuesday night, killing at least three and injuring dozens.

Kandahar Police Chief Sher Mohammed Zazai said militants detonated explosives near the city in an attack targeting a compound providing logistical support to NATO forces. He said at least three people were killed about one mile (two kilometers) from Kandahar Air Field. Hospital workers said at least 35 others were injured.

There were conflicting casualty reports. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf said one suicide bomber and two armed insurgents killed 15 people and wounded 60 others and burned eight oil tankers on the site. Zulmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, put the death toll at four and said 30 were injured.

Kandahar is the site of a planned offensive by Afghan and NATO forces to clear the city of Taliban fighters and break the grip of warlords who have allowed the militants to slip back in. President Barack Obama has ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, in part to back up the Kandahar offensive, but the Taliban have launched increasingly deadly attacks ahead of the offensive.

On Monday, the United Nations announced that it had relocated several foreign employees from Kandahar to Kabul and told more than 200 Afghan workers to stay home. The announcement came hours after three bombings — one targeting a local police official — shook the city.

"We are not facing a big threat," said Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president's half brother and a top official in Kandahar province. He added that the security situation was far worse a few years ago.

"You get one or two incidents once or twice a week," he told The Associated Press. "That shouldn't be a concern. A suicide attack can happen anywhere."

Later, Karzai told reporters in Kandahar that pulling out of the city plays into the Taliban's hands and would affect humanitarian assistance.

Since April 12, at least 20 civilians, including eight children, have been killed in Kandahar, according to an AP count. Local officials, aid workers and contractors for U.S. development projects have been targeted by Taliban fighters trying to disrupt the upcoming military operation, expected to accelerate this summer.

A senior Western official familiar with U.N. operations said 16 U.N. workers based in Kandahar were moved to a more heavily secured compound Sunday night before going to Kabul and perhaps other destinations. The official spoke anonymously because the information had not been publicly released by the United Nations.

The U.N. has been on the defensive in Afghanistan since October, when three suicide attackers stormed a Kabul residence where dozens of staffers lived. Five U.N. employees and three Afghan citizens were killed in a two-hour siege.

After that attack, the U.N. sent about 600 of its 1,100 foreign staffers either out of the country or relocated them to safer quarters. Many eventually were recalled to Kabul; others chose not to renew their contracts or terminated their tours in Afghanistan early.

The U.N. had previously used only Afghan police officers to protect most staff living quarters. Since then, it has added international armed guards to all its buildings.

The Afghan government on Tuesday renounced a U.N. report that said friendly fire from Afghan security forces may have killed four of the five U.N. staffers that died during the assault.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said a separate investigation by the Afghan government and the European Union police mission reached another conclusion.

"Our findings show that these people were killed as a result of the shootings of the bombers, the terrorists who were wearing police uniforms," ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said. He said the U.N. had ignored requests from the government to share its evidence and called for NATO to launch an independent investigation into the event.

Regarding the situation in Kandahar, Bashary said the Afghan government is committed to providing security to U.N. staffers throughout the country.

In Kabul, security forces were setting up extra roadblocks and checkpoints ahead of a celebration Wednesday marking the mujahedeen victory over the Soviets in the 1980s war. The deputy police chief in Kabul said a rocket hit the ground near the Ministry of Urban Development in the capital early Tuesday, but there were no casualties.

In April 2008, insurgents tried to assassinate President Karzai during the celebration. Three people were killed and eight others were wounded.

On Tuesday, a NATO service member was killed in eastern Afghanistan in a small-arms attack. NATO did not release the service member's name or nationality.

Also Tuesday, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said a rocket attack killed three civilians and wounded three others in a home in the northern Kunduz province. The ministry blamed insurgents for the Monday night attack.

Kunduz had been relatively quiet until a few years ago when Taliban activity began to increase, threatening NATO supply routes south from Central Asia.

In the Arghandab district of Kandahar on Tuesday morning, a roadside bomb exploded near a school while NATO troops tried to defuse it, but nobody was hurt, NATO said.

In Helmand and Ghazni provinces, gunbattles killed eight militants Monday — two in Helmand and six in Ghazni, the Interior Ministry said. Both battles pitted militants against private security workers.


Riechmann reported from Kabul.