Bombs kill 2 international toops in Afghanistan, rocket strike at major base wounds 8

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bombs kill 2 in Afghanistan; rocket hits base

KABUL — Bomb strikes killed two NATO soldiers — a Briton and a Norwegian — while a rocket attack at the major international military base in southern Afghanistan wounded eight other international troops, officials said Monday. Bulgaria’s defense minister was at the base but was not injured.

The violence came three days before a London conference on Afghanistan that is expected to focus on a government plan to reintegrate Taliban militants willing to lay down their arms.

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said the Taliban could be part of a peace agreement if an influx of 37,000 foreign troops succeeds in bringing stability to the country.

“As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting, and that what we need to do all of us is to do the fighting necessary to shape conditions where people can get on with their lives,” he said in an interview published Monday in the Financial Times. “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past.”

An Afghan government plan to offer jobs, vocational training and other economic incentives to tens of thousands of Taliban foot soldiers willing to switch sides will be discussed at the Jan. 28 international conference in London.

Officials have said the program would allow individuals to lay down their arms while top Taliban leaders are urged to negotiate peace. The Taliban leadership has rejected talks as long as foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said those Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups “are welcome to come back to their country, lay down arms and resume life.”

He said international support would help the new plan work even though past efforts have failed.

“This current effort, this renewed effort, has the backing of our partners, in particular the United States and Europe,” he told reporters during a visit to Turkey.

He also said a government effort to remove some Taliban figures from a U.N. sanctions list is gaining momentum.

“We have been pursuing the removal of that list for quite some time now. There has been some resistance to it” by some members of the U.N., he said. However, Karzai said: “There is more willingness that this can be reconsidered.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the international community would likely endorse the plan at the London conference, telling reporters Monday that it is “right to believe that over the long-term we can split the Taliban.”

The Norwegian soldier died Monday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Faryab province in the north, the country’s military said. An explosion Sunday in the southern of Helmand killed a British soldier, according to the British Defense Ministry.

The latest deaths bring the total of NATO forces killed in Afghanistan this month to 37, compared with 23 in January 2009.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the rocket attack that struck the Kandahar Air Field late Sunday, injuring four Bulgarians and at least two Romanians.

Ahmadi said the target was Bulgaria’s defense minister, who was visiting troops at the base but was unharmed.

Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Mladenov visited 270 of his country’s troops who guard the inner zone of the Kandahar airport, the ministry said. Mladenov was about 400 yards (meters) from where the rocket hit and was not hurt.

Ahmadi said six rockets were fired at the base. He also claimed 11 Bulgarian soldiers were killed but the military said only four were wounded.

The base had been hit by rockets before, though rarely with enough precision to wound people. NATO spokeswoman Flight Lt. Wendy Wheadon said the last time a rocket struck inside the base was early December when no one was hurt.

She said four Romanians were wounded, but the Defense Ministry in Bucharest confirmed only two. It was not immediately clear why NATO and Romania had conflicting numbers of wounded troops.

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, meanwhile, promoted some officers and handed out commendations for Afghan police who fought a team of Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers in an assault on Kabul a week ago Monday.

Atmar urged security forces to stay alert against a resilient enemy.

“If you close your eyes for a second, one suicide attacker can slip past you and kill innocent people,” he said during a ceremony in the capital.

Associated Press writers Christopher Torchia in Istanbul and Noor Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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