By ABDUL WAHEED WAFA and MARK McDONALD
Published: August 18, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan — Several NATO troops and civilians were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul on Tuesday, and other violence rocked the country in what seemed to be further indications of Afghanistan’s precarious security situation just two days before presidential elections.
A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said a military convoy had been attacked on the road leading east to Jalalabad, but it did not say how many people had been killed. A statement from Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said seven civilians were killed and 50 wounded in the attack.
The United Nations confirmed that two of its Afghan staff members were among those killed, though it was unclear whether they were included in the Interior Ministry’s count.
The area near the presidential palace also came under attack Tuesday.
“We understand that two mortars or rockets — as we call it, indirect fire — hit somewhere in the vicinity of the presidential palace and the Ministry of Defense,” said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The deputy presidential spokesman, Hamid Elmi, who spoke to The Associated Press, said the palace was not seriously damaged and President Hamid Karzai had not been hurt.
In another attack Tuesday morning, in Oruzgan Province, in southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber walked up to an Afghan National Army checkpoint and detonated his explosive vest, killing three soldiers and two civilians, according to the provincial police chief, Juma Gul Himat.
The violence has come despite efforts to secure the country, especially the restive south, so that voters can head out to the polling stations. In recent weeks, American and NATO forces have been moving against the Taliban, mounting a major offensive in southern Helmand Province designed to thwart an insurgent threat to disrupt the elections.
But NATO forces said Tuesday they would suspend offensive operations on election day, deploying coalition and Afghan troops to protect voters, election monitors and polling stations.
“In support of the Afghan National Security Forces who lead the security efforts during the electoral process, only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day,” the NATO-led coalition said in a statement.
The Afghan government had earlier called for a truce during Thursday’s voting.
Mr. Karzai, who is running for re-election to a second five-year term, said that his principal goal is to bring peace and security to the country and has promised to double the size of the Afghan police and army by the end of his next term.
But violence has been increasing, and the security situation from Kabul to the provinces remains tense and fragile.
In southern and eastern Afghanistan, in the heavily Pashtun areas where the reach of the Taliban is particularly strong, many Afghans have been unable to register to vote. Some places in the grip of the insurgency will have no polling stations at all.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a bombing of NATO headquarters in Kabul last Saturday. A suicide car bomber struck the front gate of the NATO compound, where the top American commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is based. Seven people were killed and 91 wounded.
Nine days ago, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers seized a five-story building in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar Province, south of Kabul. The militants battled Afghan and United States troops for several hours in a firefight that left at least four people dead.
Abdul Waheed Wafa reported from Kabul, and Mark McDonald from Hong Kong. Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.