Afghan Commander Expects Suicide Attacks

The Associated Press
Monday, January 29, 2007; 7:47 PM

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan -- The incoming commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan said Monday he expects Taliban militants to launch more suicide attacks this year than in 2006, when militants set off a record 139 such bombings.

Maj. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said military leaders expect an increase in all kinds of attacks as the weather gets warmer.

"We're expecting an increase in the suicide bombers and some of the other tactics that they have believed are successful," he said. "So we expect to see that as well as the normal stand off type attacks and harassing kind of attacks on Afghan government officials, Afghan nationals, security forces, as well as coalition forces."

Rodriguez, who takes command from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley on Friday, traveled to the eastern province of Paktika next to the Pakistan border on Monday to be briefed by military leaders and the provincial governor.

Paktika Gov. Mohammed Akram Akhpelwak told Rodriguez that Taliban militants have bases across the border in Pakistan and that he hopes U.S. forces can help stop the flow of fighters crossing into Paktika.

"If we just focus on one side of the border, we won't be successful," Akhpelwak told U.S. leaders.

Rodriguez called the border situation "harmful" to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We will continue to strengthen the security on the border, which is an important issue because of all the infiltration that occurs," Rodriguez told the governor.

The Taliban last year launched a record number of attacks, and some 4,000 people, most of them militants, died in insurgency-related violence, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials.

Suicide attacks in 2006 totaled 139, up from 27 in 2005, according to U.S. military numbers. NATO has said suicide attacks last year killed 206 Afghan civilians, 54 Afghan security personnel and 18 soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Lt. Col. David Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman, said militants would launch more suicide attacks "because nothing else they've tried works."

President Hamid Karzai renewed his call Monday for talks with the Taliban and other groups battling his government.

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