Up to 105 Die in Fierce Afghan Violence

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – Some of the fiercest violence since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001 erupted across southern Afghanistan, with militants battling U.S. and Canadian forces, detonating car bombs and attacking a small village. Up to 105 people were killed, officials said Thursday.

Much of the violence occurred in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of extra NATO troops are scheduled to deploy this summer to counter an increasing number of attacks from a stubborn insurgency.

The Taliban death toll from fighting Wednesday night and Thursday ranged up to 87, U.S. and Afghan officials said. Also, 15 Afghan police officers, one American civilian, a Canadian soldier and an Afghan civilian were killed in the attacks.

The Canadian was the first female soldier from her nation to die in combat.

Taliban rebels are made up of ethnic Pashtuns, the majority in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern regions near the Pakistan border. Insurgent attacks have been concentrated there, though the violence has rarely been as fierce as the last 24 hours.

An assault by hundreds of enemy fighters on a small southern town was one of the largest militant attacks since 2001 and marked an escalation in the campaign by supporters of the former Taliban regime to challenge the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Late Wednesday, militants attacked a police and government headquarters in Musa Qala in Helmand province, sparking eight hours of clashes with security forces. The bodies of about 40 Taliban militants were recovered, said deputy Gov. Amir Mohammed Akhunzaba.

Akhunzaba said 13 police were killed and six wounded in the fight, some 280 miles southwest of Kabul.

The assault was countered by Afghan police reinforcements, who eventually forced the militants to flee, said British military spokesman Capt. Drew Gibson.

British forces in Helmand province helped evacuate casualties but did not provide military backup, in part so Afghan police could prove their fighting abilities, Gibson said.

“If they’re the ones who are seen beating off the Taliban, there’s a lot of credibility for them,” Gibson said. “The ANP (Afghan National Police) did admirably in the circumstances, proven by the fact that Musa Qala is now back under ANP security.”

In neighboring Kandahar province, meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition said up to 27 Taliban militants were killed during a Thursday operation. The military said there were seven confirmed deaths and another 15-20 militants may have been killed in an airstrike near the village of Azizi.

In a separate battle in Kandahar province, a Canadian soldier and about 18 Taliban militants were killed late Wednesday, said Maj. Scott Lundy, a Canadian military spokesman.

Canadian soldiers were supporting Afghan forces on a mission to oust Taliban fighters in Panjwayi district, about 20 miles west of Kandahar city, when they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, Lundy said.

Three Afghan soldiers were wounded, and about 35 militants were detained, he said.

A female Canadian soldier, Capt. Nichola Goddard, was killed, he said. Goddard, 26, of Calgary, Alberta, was married with no children.

Although Canadian women lost their lives in action in both world wars, Goddard was the first to do so in a combat role.

A roadside bomb in Kandahar city exploded near an Afghan army convoy Thursday, wounding two civilians, police officer Sher Shah said. No soldiers were wounded.

In the western city of Herat near the Iranian border, a suicide car bomber killed an American civilian on a U.S. State Department police training project, U.S. Embassy spokesman Chris Harris said. Two other Americans were wounded, he said.

The blast incinerated the vehicle, which was flipped on its side. Heavily armed foreign security guards protected the scene, and an Afghan policeman walked past a severed limb laying in the road.

Herat, which is not a Taliban-controlled area, has been spared much of the violence this year, but militants have been expanding their campaigns outside their bases along the Pakistan border.

A second suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives near the gates of an Afghan army base in Ghazni, 70 miles south of Kabul, Alam said.

The blast killed the bomber and a civilian passing on a motorbike and wounded a man walking in the area. No soldiers at the base were hurt, he said.

Also in Ghazni, rebels ambushed two police patrols, killing two officers and wounding five, including the provincial deputy police chief, Alam said.

The escalating violence in the south, with militants launching increasingly bold attacks and suicide bombings, comes as NATO prepares to take over control of security operations from the U.S.-led coalition, which has been hunting for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the region since late 2001.

Troops from nations including Canada, Britain and the Netherlands will be stationed in the south.

Canada’s parliament narrowly voted late Wednesday night to extend the nation’s military mission in Afghanistan by two years until February 2009.

The New York Sun

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