Afghanistan civilian casualties spike; officials say 200 killed in 2-week period

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 6:28 PM

KABUL - More than 200 Afghans were killed in attacks and military operations during the past two weeks, Afghan officials said Saturday, calling it the deadliest period for civilians since the war began.

Two attacks on Saturday added to that toll and fueled fears that violence will climb as winter, typically a slow fighting season in Afghanistan, gives way to spring.

The latest violence comes as U.S. commanders are under heavy pressure to show signs of progress in the nine-year-old war. Insurgent groups, meanwhile, have shown resilience this winter and appear determined to keep the fight raging until foreign troops withdraw.

Afghan civilians are increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict, once more turning the issue of civilian casualties into a propaganda tool for both sides.

Nine Afghans were killed Saturday morning in Khost province, in the east, when the vehicle they were riding in set off a land mine - a type of weapon typically used to target military personnel.

Hours later, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in Faryab province, in the north, killing three people, including a child, who were watching a traditional Central Asian game called buzkashi.

More than 30 people were wounded in the attack during the game, which involves players on horseback jostling for the headless carcass of a dead goat.

Faryab Gov. Abdul Haq Shafaq blamed the Taliban.

"Who else can blow themselves up?" he said. "They are targeting the innocent people."

Saturday's suicide bombing was the seventh in Afghanistan in the past month. Insurgents have often claimed to target security forces, but the recent bombings suggest leaders of the Taliban and other groups have become less concerned about the fallout civilian casualties generate.

Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the country's main intelligence agency, told reporters Saturday morning that about 90 percent of the recent civilian casualties have been the result of insurgent attacks.

He said the increase in suicide bombings suggests the Taliban is no longer as willing to engage in conventional fighting with a larger and better-armed contingent of NATO and Afghan forces.

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