Kabul : A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-filled car into an international military convoy Tuesday in Kabul, killing seven civilians, two Afghan UN staffers and one NATO soldier.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which also left wounded 53 Afghan civilians, and two NATO soldiers, as another bomber Tuesday attacked an army checkpoint in the southern province of Uruzgan, killing five people.
The bombings came two days before Afghans go to the polls to directly elect a president for only the second time in their history and raised concerns in the war-weary Central Asian country that the elections would be overshadowed by violence.
President Hamid Karzai, who is running for re-election Thursday, condemned Tuesday’s attacks, saying: “The enemies of Afghanistan are worried about massive participation of people in the elections, and by carrying out these terrorist attacks, they try to prevent them from going to voting centres.”
“But despite enemies’ efforts, the Afghan people with their understanding of the importance of elections, would go to polling stations,” Karzai said in a statement issued by his office.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed that the Kabul attack was against one of its convoys.
“Updated reports indicate that those killed were one ISAF service member, seven Afghan civilians and two Afghan civilian employees of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan,” the ISAF said in a statement.
“The reports that we have from all our hospitals in Kabul say seven people were killed and 52 others, including children, were wounded,” Farid Rahid, spokesman for Afghan Public Health Ministry.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for Taliban militants, said the attack was against US military forces. He claimed that more than 10 US soldiers were killed and four of their military tanks were destroyed. Taliban casualty claims, however, are considered unreliable.
The attack happened hours after two rockets believed to have been fired by Taliban militants from southern Kabul landed in the fortified presidential palace.
One of the rockets hit a tree inside the palace compound, where Karzai and his family lives, while the other hit an open area near the palace, officials said. No one was hurt by the two rockets.
Kabul, which was relatively peaceful in the past six months before August, has seen an upsurge in Taliban attacks including suicide bombings and rocket attacks.
NATO-led US General Stanley McChrystal said in an interview with German media at NATO headquarters in Kabul that the city was still safer than previous years.
“Although there are isolated incidents – (Kabul) is remarkably more secure than it was even a year or two ago,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, a suicide bomber in Uruzgan’s Chora district attacked a checkpoint manned by Afghan army personnel, killing three soldiers and two civilians, provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat said.
Three more soldiers and three civilians were wounded in the blast, which took place about 30 km northeast of the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt, he said.
Thousands of Afghan and international forces are taking part in several operations in the south to flush out militants ahead of Thursday’s voting.
The latest deaths brought to 276 the total number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan so far this year. The number includes more than 150 US troops.