Blasts Kill 5 NATO Soldiers In Afghanistan

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CBS
Roadside bombs killed five NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, as 100 aid groups warned that violence in the country was spreading to once-stable regions and hindering humanitarian efforts.

Separately, a suicide bomber in southwestern Afghanistan killed three people, including two young girls, a provincial governor said.

The soldiers' deaths marked a bloody start to the month in what's already been a deadly year for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, where a Taliban-led insurgency is raging nearly seven years after their fundamentalist Muslim regime was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion.

In response to the insurgency, the U.S. has started to divert reinforcements from Iraq to Afghanistan, though they currently comprise mostly of several helicopters and some combat engineers, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. The overall Afghanistan troop surge could eventually total 10,000 soldiers.

Four of the NATO soldiers and a civilian died in Kunar province Friday, the alliance said in a statement. The fifth troop death was in Khost, another eastern province. The alliance did not release the nationalities of the soldiers. However, most of the troops in those areas are American.

The number of attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased by 40 percent this year compared to the same period in 2007. Afghan officials complain that most of the militants fighting there are using Pakistan's tribal areas as a base for training and launching attacks.

Not only has the government of Pakistan failed to clean out the terrorist safe havens on its border, its intelligence service is actually working with some of the extremist groups, reports Martin.

"Pakistan views the current situation as untenable," Seth Jones, a Middle East expert for the RAND Corporation, told CBS News. "There's an Afghan government that is closely tied with India, Pakistan's mortal enemy. That situation is simply untenable."

Earlier this month, the CIA's deputy director confronted Pakistani officials with evidence their own intelligence service was behind the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. On top of that, Pakistan's defense minister said President Bush had complained to the prime minister that Pakistani intelligence was giving militants advance warning of predator missile strikes, reports Martin.

A suicide bomber, meanwhile, blew himself up while being chased by police in the southwestern town of Zaranj in Nimroz province on Friday, said the provincial governor Ghulam Dastagir Azad. The attack killed three people, including two young girls, and wounded five other civilians.

The police wounded the man before he blew himself up, Azad said.

Militants regularly use suicide bombing in their attacks against Afghan and foreign troops in the country, but majority of the victims in such attacks have been civilians.

The Taliban-led insurgency is particularly strong in Afghanistan's south and east, but a statement Friday by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief noted that violence is now reaching other provinces, even those bordering the capital, Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

"Insecurity has spread to areas which were previously relatively stable in parts of north, northwest and central Afghanistan," it said.

Drawing on other recent reports, it said "aid organizations and their staff have been subject to increasing attacks, threats and intimidation, by both insurgent and criminal groups."

It cited a group that advises aid agencies on security that recently reported there were 2,056 insurgent attacks in the six months through June, a 52 percent increase from the same period of 2007. The report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office also said that 19 aid workers have been killed so far this year, compared to 15 in all of 2007.

ACBAR said initial estimates suggest more than 260 civilians were killed in July alone, higher than any other month in the last six years.

The statement also said that in the south violence has forced the closure of a large number of schools and health facilities, and "has caused significant levels of internal displacement."

It noted that parts of Afghanistan are experiencing "severe drought" and that food prices are rising as well, adding to the hardships of an already impoverished population.

"Increasing and spreading insecurity is jeopardizing the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to these people and threatening their lives and livelihoods," the statement said.

Aleem Siddique, a top U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, agreed that "the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan continues to grow" but insisted that "we need the continued support of NGOs and the international community if we are to prevent further suffering."

"It is imperative that they remain committed to Afghanistan," Siddique said. "The needs of its people cannot be met by the government and the U.N. alone."

The groups involved in ACBAR also expressed concern about the impact of violence on civilians, and noted that airstrikes by international forces were adding to the civilian casualty toll.

1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a U.S. military spokesman, responded Friday, "Coalition forces make every effort to minimize the risk of any damage, injury or loss of life to noncombatants."

An Associated Press count based on accounts from Afghan and Western officials indicates that more than 2,700 people - most of them militants - have died in insurgency-related violence this year.

In other recent violence, five police were killed - and two others were wounded - in southern Kandahar province's Panjwayi district when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle on Thursday, according to district police official Bismullah Khan.