Suicide Attack on NATO Patrol Kills 13 Schoolchildren in Afghan Market

By Noor Khan
Associated Press
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, July 10 -- A suicide bomber targeted a NATO patrol in a marketplace filled with children Tuesday, killing 13 elementary school students and at least four other people.

Eight Dutch soldiers patrolling on foot -- the apparent targets -- and at least 35 Afghans were wounded in the bombing in southern Uruzgan province. The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest in Afghanistan this year.

The bomber struck around 9 a.m., when children usually arrive at a nearby primary school for a second shift of classes. Schools in Afghanistan often serve three rotations of students.

"Some of the children were walking to school while other children were selling goods in the market," said Gen. Abdul Qassim Khan, the provincial police chief.

He said the bomber detonated his explosives outside a pharmacy as the Dutch patrol entered the market, a central shopping area for people from nearby villages. Seven shops were destroyed.

The United Nations and NATO criticized the Taliban over the civilian deaths.

"Such utter disregard for innocent lives is staggering, and those behind this must be held responsible," said the top U.N. representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs.

The United States and NATO have been criticized repeatedly by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for killing Afghan civilians during military operations.

A Web site posting in May, purportedly from Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, said he was "concerned" about civilian deaths caused by U.S. and NATO forces.

Maj. John Thomas, a NATO spokesman, said the bomber in Uruzgan showed "no concern for the potential deaths and injuries of civilians."

"It's pretty shocking that with the recent calls by some insurgent leaders to protect civilians in this conflict that they would undertake a massacre of civilians in a marketplace," he said.

Details about the bombing varied. The deputy district police chief, Jahih Kawi Khan, said 19 people were killed and 35 wounded, while the Interior Ministry said 17 had died. Provincial health department chief Luma Khan said 51 people were wounded, most of them children. Afghan officials said the suicide bomber was on foot; NATO said it was a vehicle bombing.

The officials all agreed that 13 children were killed.

The attack occurred in Dihrawudat district in the southern tip of Uruzgan province, near the border with Helmand and Kandahar provinces. It is considered among the most violent areas in the country and the heart of the opium poppy-growing region.

The bombing appeared to be the third-deadliest of the year. More than 3,100 people -- most of them fighters -- have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company