Monday, May 02, 2011

Two Bombings Rock Afghanistan,0,7221537.story

Two bombings rock Afghanistan

More than half a dozen people are killed and 20 injured in the attacks in Paktika and Ghazni provinces. The Taliban denies responsibility.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
4:47 PM PDT, May 1, 2011
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan

On the first day of the Taliban's self-declared spring offensive, insurgents attacked in two Afghan provinces, killing more than half a dozen people, including a district council leader, and wounding another 20, officials said.

Early Sunday, a 12-year-old suicide bomber struck at a bazaar in the Barmal district of eastern Paktika province, killing four people, including a woman and the chairman of the district council, Shir Nawaz Khan, according to Mohibullah Samim, the provincial governor. A dozen people were wounded.

Later, in southwestern Ghazni province, a bicycle loaded with explosives detonated in Ghazni city's Mustofyet square, killing two police officers and wounding a bystander, according to provincial Police Chief Zerawar Zahid.

Taliban officials denied responsibility for the latest violence, despite warnings Saturday that they planned to launch attacks.

NATO officials joined President Hamid Karzai in condemning the bombings, which they blamed on the Taliban, saying the attacks showed how desperate insurgents had become.

"After publicly declaring just yesterday that 'strict attention must be paid to the protection and safety of civilians,' insurgents detonated an IED [improvised explosive device] in a bazaar full of Afghan civilians," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Harold "Hal" Pittman, a NATO spokesman. "These cowardly attacks on Afghan civilians demonstrate the impotence of the Taliban....They will not achieve any lasting impact on the campaign. They will only cause more pain to the Afghan people."

NATO officials said they scored a victory Sunday in capturing a Taliban leader and two of his associates in the southern city of Kandahar. One of the detainees was an inmate on the run after the Taliban-engineered jailbreak from Sarposa prison last week.

The Taliban leader, who NATO officials did not identify, had repeatedly bombed Afghan and NATO forces in the Pashmul and Ushmad areas before he was captured, according to a NATO statement.

The Sarposa inmate was among the 488 who escaped last weekend through a 1,050-foot tunnel. As of Sunday, at least 76 of the inmates had been recaptured and two had been killed while attempting to avoid recapture, Afghan officials said. The warden and nine other prison officials have been arrested and are still being questioned in connection with the incident, Afghan officials said.

Each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces has a prison and smaller jails. Sarposa was one of the more sophisticated, with improved security after past escapes and attacks last year and in 2008, according to U.S. officials. But the prison and others across the country have been strained by an influx of inmates in recent years, U.S. officials said, up nationwide from about 2,000 in 2004 to about 20,000.

U.S. advisors were still consulting with Afghan correctional officials Sunday about ways to improve security in the nation's correctional system and at Sarposa in particular, where guards apparently allowed inmates to unlock their cells at night to use the bathroom, making it easier for the Taliban to stage the escape without alerting guards.

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