[[Deepak Tripathi is the author of Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan (Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C.)]]
A suicide car bomb attack targeting NATO troops killed about 20 people near parliament in the capital Kabul today. More than 50 others were wounded. An army doctor said it was the worst bombing in the city for more than a year.
The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, saying they had targeted ‘invading NATO forces’. The insurgents said they used a van loaded with 750 kg of explosives. The attack came amid US-led military operations in Helmand Province and in the Taliban stronghold, Kandahar. Success in these operations would be essential for President Obama’s intended withdrawal of US combat troops to begin in July 2011.
The BBC defense and security correspondent Nick Childs says, “The Western alliance is making no bones about the fact that it is trying to wrest the military initiative in Afghanistan from the insurgents. So, in the battle for perceptions and hearts and minds, this will be a serious blow, with the high loss of life both of NATO troops and local civilians.”
A spokesman for the international peacekeeping force confirmed that six of its soldiers had been killed. Apart from the five US soldiers, one Canadian is believed to have died. But most of the casualties were civilians, as is the case in most attacks by combatants.
There was another attack inside Pakistan. At least 12 people were killed in a bomb blast near a police vehicle in the north-western Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan. Officials said the bomb was planted on a bicycle and targeted the deputy police superintendent, who was killed along with his guard and driver.
There have been a number of US drone strikes inside Pakistan since the attempted bomb attack in New York in early May. An American citizen of Pakistani origin, Faisal Shahzad, is in custody as the main suspect and is being interrogated. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned of serious consequences for Pakistan if security threats appeared to originate from that country.
As President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for a military drawdown approaches, violence on both sides is likely to increase, resulting in casualties not only among combatants, but critically, among civilians.