Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan; civilian deaths up from last year
KABUL -- A roadside bomb tore through a minibus in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday evening as the government said civilian casualties are on the rise ahead of a military buildup to combat the resurgent Taliban.
The explosion struck the Zurmat district of Paktia province, district chief Gulab Shah said. There was no official death toll in the Taliban-held area, but a witness said he counted seven bodies and 14 wounded.
The witness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said many of the victims appeared to be women and children.
Earlier Sunday, the Interior Ministry said 173 civilians have been killed in violence in Afghanistan from March 21 to April 21, marking a 33 percent increase over the same period last year. A recent quarterly report by the U.S. office overseeing Afghanistan's rebuilding confirmed the increase.
The ministry did not provide a breakdown of who was responsible for the fatalities.
Civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and other international forces are highly sensitive in Afghanistan, although the United Nations says the Taliban is responsible for most civilian casualties. Still, the backlash could undermine U.S. strategy ahead of a summer military operation in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban.
The goal of the U.S.-led operation is to flood in troops, rout the militants, and rush in new governance and development projects to win the loyalty of Kandahar's half-million residents.
Public outrage over civilian deaths prompted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to tighten the rules last year on the use of airstrikes and other weaponry if civilians are at risk.