Blast Kills at Least Two Dozen People in Afghanistan

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 10, 2009

KABUL, July 9 -- An explosion from a bomb hidden in a truck loaded with firewood killed at least two dozen people early Thursday, including 12 schoolchildren, in a village south of the Afghan capital, local and federal officials said.

The truck crashed Wednesday night in a stream right by two schools in Logar province, and it exploded when police came to investigate the next morning. Logar is the site of increasing activity by Taliban insurgents and the American forces fighting them. There are several new U.S. military bases in Logar, with daily operations aimed at crushing the Islamist rebels.

It has been a week of intense combat and exceptionally heavy violence in Afghanistan, largely connected to the offensive by more than 4,000 U.S. Marines and several hundred Afghan troops in southern Helmand province, several hundred miles from Logar. At least 17 American and British troops have been killed in combat incidents since Friday.

Several Afghan officials said the Logar explosion, which occurred near the main highway less than 30 miles from Kabul, could have been part of an aborted or misfired plan to attack the capital. There have been repeated warnings that the Taliban intend to sabotage the presidential election scheduled for Aug. 20.

"This explosion was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan. The closer we get to the elections, the more the enemies will try to sabotage it," Fazlullah Mojadeddi, a member of parliament from Logar, said in a telephone interview.

Abdul Hamid, the government administrator of Mohammed Agha district, where the explosion occurred, said the bomb seemed to have been detonated by remote control just as police came to inspect the overturned cargo truck. He said officials had found 25 bodies, including those of 12 children, and were still pulling remains from the debris of several shops destroyed by the bomb.

Although intense fighting has raged in southern Afghanistan in recent days, there has been a lull in terrorist attacks and bombings in the past month.

Some critics have said that international and Afghan forces should focus more attention on protecting Kabul and other major voting locations as the election approaches. Helmand is a remote province with relatively few voters but a heavy and longtime Taliban presence.

The U.S. Marine commander in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, told Pentagon reporters in Washington on Wednesday that his forces have met only light resistance in Helmand but that he urgently needs more help from Afghan forces to combat the Taliban fighters in the area.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company