2 Afghans die in suicide bombing


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A suicide bomber killed two Afghans outside a NATO military base in western Afghanistan, and two suspected Taliban commanders died in raids by the U.S.-led coalition, authorities said Saturday.

The suicide car explosion in the city of Herat, where hundreds of Italian soldiers are based, was the second such attack in as many days. It highlighted the increasing risk to foreign forces as they expand into new areas across Afghanistan.

On Friday, a suicide attack outside a U.S.-led coalition base wounded two U.S. military service members and one U.S. civilian contractor in southern Helmand province.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, called The Associated Press to claim responsibility for Saturday’s suicide attack near the gates of the Italian NATO base.

Herat police chief Gen. Mohammed Ayub Salingi said a suicide attacker drove a vehicle up to the base and detonated explosives inside the car. One of the dead was an Afghan guard at the base and the other was a passer-by, he said. The attacker also died.

No foreign troops were killed and one foreign civilian was slightly wounded inside the base, said Warrant Officer Cosimo Argentieri, a spokesman for the NATO force.

The attack in Herat was unusual because the city, near Afghanistan’s western border with Iran, has been spared much of the violence that has wracked southern and eastern parts of the country.

The majority of the city’s residents are ethnic Tajiks, unlike the Taliban rebels, who are predominantly ethnic Pashtun.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces killed two Taliban rebel commanders during raids Friday and Saturday in the southern Helmand province, the U.S. military said. The region is a hotbed of the insurgency and the booming drug trade.

Military spokesman Sgt. Scott Gomer declined to release the commanders’ names and there was no way to independently verify their seniority in the rebel movement.

One insurgent leader was implicated in dozens of bombings that killed several Afghan civilians and soldiers as well as coalition troops, the military said.

A statement quoted U.S. military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley as saying that the death of the rebel chief had “effectively disrupted the command and control of Taliban fighters” in Helmand and neighboring Uruzgan provinces.

The second rebel leader and another insurgent were killed in an air attack on a Taliban hide-out in Helmand’s Sangin district Saturday, the U.S. military said.

Separately, three other suspected insurgents were arrested in neighboring Kandahar province, another military statement said.

No Afghan or coalition troops were hurt in any of the operations, the military said.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government. Some 1,600 people were killed in fighting last year, the most since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.

In the past six months, the rebels have started using suicide attackers, a new threat that is proving hard to counter.