Three suicide bombings killed at least 19 people across Afghanistan on Monday, including four Canadian soldiers in an attack that tested NATO's claim of success in driving insurgents from this volatile southern corner of the country.
Two attacks were carried out by militants strapped with explosives riding a bicycle and a motorcycle. The third, in the capital Kabul, was a car bombing that killed at least four police in a busy market area.
The deadliest attack took place in the usually calm western city of Herat, where a suicide bomber on a motorbike targeting Herat's deputy police chief killed 11 people and wounded 18, officials said. The police chief was among those wounded.
The violence comes amid an upsurge in militant attacks across Afghanistan, particularly suicide bombings, and Sunday's end of a two-week long NATO operation targeting Taliban insurgents that the alliance described as a success.
"It does appear that they are resorting to these despicable tactics after the pressure we have them under in their strongholds," NATO spokesman Maj. Luke Knittig said in Kabul.
Operation Medusa centered on the southern Kandahar province district of Panjwayi, where the first of Monday's suicide bombings targeted a Canadian foot patrol delivering aid, killing four soldiers and wounding an unspecified number of others, the Canadian
The bombing was claimed by a purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, in a telephone call to an Associated Press reporter.
"The circumstances of today's deaths where our serviceman were in the process of distributing some candy to children in a village and killed by a suicide bomber while doing this, I think nothing more illustrates the evil they are fighting and the goodwill and the nobleness of the cause that they are taking to the Afghan people," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Ottawa.
NATO said another 25 civilians were wounded in the blast in the village of Kafir Band, a small clutch of mud-brick homes surrounded by grape and pomegranate orchards.
The blast tore through the Canadian patrol, shredding uniforms and military equipment. Pieces of human flesh hung from trees and pools of blood soaked into the dusty road. The bomber's legs ended up near a gold-colored military patch torn from a soldier's
"This attack amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law," Tom Koenigs, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
The four deaths took to at least 36 the number of Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan since 2002. At least five Canadians were killed during Operation Medusa, in which at least 510 insurgents were also killed in fearsome airstrikes and ground battles, NATO claimed.
Most of Afghanistan's recent surge in violence has taken place in volatile southern provinces, where some 8,000 NATO forces took military control from the U.S.-led coalition on Aug. 1.
NATO commanders say they need another 2,500 troops plus greater air support to crush the Taliban threat more quickly.
But the bombing in Herat and a string of recent attacks in neighboring Farah province indicate that insurgents are moving their deadly southern campaign into long-calm western parts of Afghanistan.
The spree of western attacks forced Afghan and foreign forces Monday to launch a military operation in Farah, where a dozen Taliban and police were killed in insurgent raids last week. Four Italian soldiers were also wounded in a recent roadside bombing in
the vast desert region.
Operation Wyconda Pincer involves Afghan soldiers and police along with U.S., Italian and Spanish troops, NATO said in a statement.
"This operation is in response to a growing number of terrorist acts that have occurred in recent weeks," said Cdr. Michael Horan, a NATO official in Farah.
In Monday's third suicide attack, a car bomber killed four policemen and wounded another in eastern Kabul's Poli-e-Charki area, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, chief of criminal department of Kabul police. At least 10 civilians were wounded.
By Noor Khan