An Afghan official says a roadside mine blast in southern Afghanistan has killed 9 civilians

Friday, June 11, 2010

9 Afghan civilians killed in mine blast

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan official says a roadside mine blast in southern Afghanistan has killed 9 civilians.

A spokesman for the Kandahar provincial government, Zalmai Ayoubi, says four women and three children were among those who died in the blast early Friday morning.

Eight other people were wounded and taken to a hospital run by NATO troops in the southern province.

Violence has spiked in Afghanistan volatile south in recent weeks as Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks ahead of a planned major operation by NATO forces to secure the main city of Kandahar.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Security fears forced Britain’s leader to cancel a visit to a military base in southern Afghanistan, where skepticism about foreign forces and a spike in bloodshed has slowed planning for a key NATO operation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s planned visit to a frontline base in volatile Helmand province on Thursday was canceled after mobile phone calls referring to a possible rocket attack on a helicopter were intercepted, the British domestic news agency Press Association reported.

Cameron, on his first visit to Afghanistan since coming to power last month, was at his country’s main base in Helmand on Friday speaking with British troops.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, acknowledged Thursday that the coming operation to secure the southern city of Kandahar — the Taliban’s birthplace and where it still has support — will take longer than originally planned.

McChrystal, speaking in Brussels, said he had underestimated the amount of time needed to get local support for the operation, although he insisted he would still demonstrate a turnaround in the war by year’s end.

Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply in recent weeks — at least 30 NATO troops have been killed so far this month, 20 of them U.S. service members including an American who died Thursday from a roadside bombing. Taliban insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter over Helmand on Wednesday, killing four American troops.

The blood of civilians is also being spilled. An explosion at a wedding party on Wednesday in a village near Kandahar killed at least 40 people and wounded 74.

Authorities blamed a suicide bomber. Villagers said they heard helicopters just before the explosion and that they believed it must have been a NATO airstrike. It was unclear whether villagers were genuine in their suspicions about NATO or fearful of Taliban reprisals.

Public support for the U.S.-led mission is weakest in the dusty farming communities of southern Afghanistan, where the ethnic Pashtun population provides the Taliban with most of its fighters.

Commanders have warned of more casualties in the nearly nine-year-old war as U.S. troops surge into the country, mostly to the Taliban’s heartland in the south. The Taliban, meanwhile, have stepped up attacks in an apparent bid to counter the coming Kandahar operation.

“There are going to be tough days ahead,” McChrystal said in Brussels. “Violence is up, and I think violence is going to continue to rise, particularly over the summer months.”

On Thursday, Cameron met Afghan President Hamid Karzai for talks in the capital. Afterward, the British leader said the allies needed to show this year that NATO was making headway in defeating the insurgency.

“This is the year when we have to make progress — progress for the sake of the Afghan people, but progress also on behalf of people back at home who want this to work,” he said.

He affirmed support for the NATO mission, but ruled out sending more troops to Britain’s 9,500-strong force.

As fighting escalates, Karzai is reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.

The president last week won endorsement from a national conference for his plan to offer incentives to the militants to lay down their arms, and to seek talks with the Taliban leadership. The leadership has so far publicly shunned the offer, and the U.S. is skeptical whether peace can succeed until the Taliban are weakened on the battlefield.

Cameron said Thursday foreign troops should be in Afghanistan “not a moment longer than necessary,” and that a political solution including reconciliation with the insurgents would be important to achieve lasting peace.

Associated Press writers Robert H. Reid in Kabul and Anne Gearan in Brussels contributed to this report.

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