Dozens Killed In Afghanistan as Foreign Troops Head Home

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Afghanistan, Troops, NATO Pullout
An Afghan army bus destroyed in a suicide attack is taken away by a salvage lorry. PHOTO: AFP
KABUL: The Afghan Taliban killed a Supreme Court official, a group of mine clearers and two foreign soldiers but also suffered heavy losses as violence intensifies in the run-up to the withdrawal of most international troops in the next two weeks.

The Afghan National Army said it had killed more than 50 insurgents in the past 48 hours. On Saturday, Taliban gunmen on motorbikes killed a dozen workers deactivating land mines near the former British base of Camp Bastion. In Kabul, more gunmen shot dead senior Supreme Court official Atiqullah Raoufi.

“As Atiqullah Raoufi was leaving his house, gunmen opened fire and shot him dead,” Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for Kabul’s police chief, told Reuters, adding that no one had been detained. The Taliban, ousted from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, claimed responsibility, but did not say why it had killed him.

Two Nato soldiers were also killed on Friday in an attack in the east of Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said in a statement, without identifying their nationality.

The latest bout of violence comes ahead of the official end of Nato’s war against the Taliban on December 31 after 13 years of fighting. The bloodshed has wrecked claims that the insurgency is weakening and has highlighted fears that Afghanistan could trip into a spiral of violence as the US-led military presence declines.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber on foot detonated explosives next to the military bus in central Kabul, destroying the vehicle in one of the busiest parts of the city as people left work. “The suicide attack on an Afghan army bus today killed seven and injured 18 more, including some civilians,” General Ayoub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, said.

Earlier in the day, Taliban gunmen shot dead a senior Supreme Court official in the city as he left his home. Insurgents also killed 12 mine clearance workers in the restive southern province of Helmand in attack that President Ashraf Ghani condemned as “unjustifiable and un-Islamic”. The Taliban have targeted de-mining projects before, beheading seven workers Farah province in 2011.

On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among the audience attending a performance at a French cultural centre in Kabul, killing one German national and wounding 15 others. Other recent targets have included foreign guesthouses, a female Afghan member of parliament, a British embassy convoy and three members of a South African family killed when their compound was attacked.

Kabul has been hit by at least 12 suicide attacks in the last month. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on a visit to Kabul a week ago that the upsurge showed “that the international community must not waver in its support for a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan”.

He insisted Afghanistan would not go the way of Iraq, where another US-trained army virtually collapsed in the face of an onslaught by Islamic State jihadists after American troops left the country in 2011. But Afghan officials have expressed alarm over the challenge facing the local security forces who must increasingly tackle the insurgents without NATO military assistance.

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