KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A suspected Taliban suicide car bomber rammed a convoy of NATO-led forces in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing two Afghan children and wounding three alliance soldiers, police officers said.
The children were walking on a street in the town of Spin Boldak, on the border with Pakistan, when the bomber struck. Smoke could be seen rising from the site and soldiers had cordoned off the area, the officers said.
Another suicide attacker drove his car into a government building in the southeastern province of Khost, also bordering Pakistan, wounding 23 people, 19 of them civilians, the Interior Ministry said.
The Taliban have vowed to step up their campaign of suicide bombings this year in an effort to wear down the will of Western public opinion to keep international forces in Afghanistan.
But troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have become better at surviving the attacks and now most of the victims are Afghan civilians.
Many Afghans are growing increasingly frustrated at the inability of their government and Afghan and foreign security forces to stem the tide of suicide bombs; 140 last year.
While ISAF is able to inflict heavy casualties in direct clashes with Taliban guerrillas, commanders admit that stopping suicide bombs is an altogether more difficult proposition.
“It is probably the hardest explosive delivery there is to deal with,” U.S. General David McKiernan told a news conference in Kabul a day after taking command of ISAF.
“I think our ultimate answer to the suicide bomber is to try to get at the root of the motivations of the suicide bomber, whether those are poverty, ideology or fear. But it is a very very difficult challenge,” he said.
The number of ISAF troops has risen from 33,000 18 months ago to some 50,000 now and in the same time the Afghan army has also more than doubled in size from just over 20,000 to 57,000, but there are few signs of any let-up in the Taliban insurgency.
Last year 77 percent of security incidents involving the Taliban occurred in 10 percent of districts, the outgoing ISAF chief said this week. So far this year, 76 percent of incidents occurred in 10 percent of districts; evidence the insurgency is not spreading, but also that there is scant improvement.
Most of those violent districts are in the south and east, regions which share a border with Pakistan.
Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of allowing the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies to use sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas along the border to train and equip fighters.
Pakistan denies the charge and points out it has lost hundreds of troops fighting militants in its border region.
But now the new Pakistani government is engaged in peace talks with Pakistani Taliban groups, negotiations heavily criticized by Afghan and NATO leaders.
McKiernan said one his first trips as the new ISAF commander would be to Pakistan for talks on how to improve border security.