Suicide bomber strikes government building

March 3, 2008 11:39:55 AM PST
A suicide car bomber attacked a government building protected by NATO and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, collapsing a guard post and wounding three NATO soldiers inside, officials said. Two Afghan policemen were also wounded in the attack, said district chief Lutfullah Babakarheil.

The attacker rammed the explosives-laden car into the gates of the building in the Yaqoubi district of eastern Khost province, said Khost Gov. Arsallah Jamal.

Babarkeil initially said the building was an American base. But Jamal said it was an Afghan government district building inside compound that also houses a unit of U.S. soldiers.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Accetta, a spokesman for NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan, said three NATO soldiers were wounded when the guard post collapsed. They were evacuated for medical care to the main U.S. military base at Bagram airfield.

Accetta would not disclose the soldiers' nationalities because of strict rules set by NATO. However, the majority of international forces in Khost province are American.

Clashes and raids in the south, meanwhile, left more than 20 Taliban fighters dead or wounded, officials said.

On Sunday, U.S.-led coalition troops targeted a Taliban commander in Garmser district of Helmand province, the coalition said.

"Several insurgents were killed when they fired on coalition forces," who detained four men with suspected links to the militants, the coalition said in a statement.

Also Sunday, Afghan and foreign troops clashed with militants in Helmand's Sangin district, resulting in 20 casualties, the Defense Ministry said. It did not provide a breakdown of the number of dead and wounded militants.

Separately, a Canadian soldier was killed by a roadside bomb west of Kandahar city on Sunday, said Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, 79 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan, including five soldiers this year. Most have been killed by roadside bombs.

Canada has deployed about 2,500 troops to fight the Taliban in the volatile south, but has threatened to withdraw if other NATO countries fail to provide 1,000 additional troops for Kandahar province, one of the centers of the Taliban-led insurgency.

Afghanistan's intelligence chief, meanwhile, rejected an assessment by his U.S. counterpart that 10 percent of the country is under Taliban control, calling the figures "completely baseless." Michael McConnell, the U.S. National Intelligence Director, told a Senate committee last week in Washington that Afghanistan's central government controls just 30 percent of the country, the Taliban controls about 10 percent, and local tribes control the rest. Afghan and Western officials have disputed the figures. "All the percentages given are completely baseless for us," Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told a news conference Monday in Kabul. Saleh said only eight of Afghanistan's 364 districts - comprising 2 percent of the Afghan population or 5 percent of its territory - are not government controlled. Saleh also took issue with McConnell's assertion that the 60 percent of the country controlled by tribal leaders is not under direct government control. "We are a very distinct country, in our culture, in our way of governance, in our history," Saleh said. "While in America, an administration fully backed by tribal chiefs or dominated by tribal chiefs may be seen as liability ... here we see it as a very strong asset." Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 6,500 people - mostly militants - were killed in violence linked to the insurgency, according to an Associated Press count. --- Associated Press reporter Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report