KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb killed 10 workers in southern Afghanistan, and NATO again promised that the coalition would not abandon the country even if some members plan to withdraw their forces.
Also Tuesday, two high-ranking government officials survived attempted assassinations.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that plans to hand over control of seven areas to Afghan soldiers in July remained on course, despite new bombings and assaults by insurgents. Those areas include Bamiyan and Panjshir provinces, the cities of Lashkar Gah, Herat, Mazer-e-Sharif and Mehterlam, and nearly all of Kabul province.
"Those who threaten Afghanistan's future should be under no illusion — NATO is and remains committed to Afghanistan," Fogh Rasmussen told Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to a coalition statement.
NATO also acknowledged Tuesday that soldiers shot dead an Afghan holding a flashlight during a raid, something that could add to the growing anti-foreigner sentiment in Afghanistan after nearly a decade of war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the roadside bombing aimed at workers in Kandahar, which has seen a rise in incidents in recent days as Taliban fighters try to retake territory lost in the past year.
The workers on the truck were employed by the local government in the region to clean up rivers and streams, according to Dr. Qayoum Pakhla, the director of Kandahar Hospital. Ten died, and 28 were injured in the attack.
"I could see people calling for help and crying," said one of the survivors, who gave his name as Sabdullah. "I saw some of my friends' dead bodies. I was helpless at that moment."
Meanwhile, Ahmad Ziad, a deputy chief at the National Directorate for Security, escaped injury in an attempted suicide bombing that targeted his car as he was traveling to work in Kabul, police said.
Ziad's bodyguards opened fire on a suspicious sport utility vehicle heading toward his convoy, wounding the driver and stopping the speeding SUV laden with explosives, the police said.
The driver was arrested and hospitalized under guard, pending an investigation. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attempt in a message to The Associated Press.
In a separate attack, gunmen opened fire on an armored SUV carrying Helmand provincial Gov. Mohammad Gulab Mangul. A statement from his office said police returned fire, killing two attackers. Mangul was not injured during the attack.
The growing number of attacks in the insurgents' spring offensive come as NATO and the United States hope to begin relinquishing control of security to the Afghan military through the end of 2014. President Barack Obama has said the United States, with about 100,000 troops on the ground, will begin a gradual drawdown in July — with the number to be determined by the situation at the time. Other nations plan to draw down their troop levels as well.
Fogh Rasmussen told journalists in Kabul on Tuesday that the "transition is on track" for the handover of seven of Afghanistan's 34 provinces in July. Both the secretary general and Karzai urged insurgent fighters to lay down their weapons and embrace an ongoing peace process.
"By shooting at our own countrymen, we gain nothing but the curse of history and the curse of God," Karzai said.
The NATO secretary general later traveled to the western province of Herat, where he walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) through the central bazaar of Herat city with the provincial governor. While on the trip, he said the recent shooting death of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs would not affect NATO troop levels or drawdown plans.
"The operation against Osama bin Laden is a major blow to international terrorism, but it doesn't change our plans as far as Afghanistan is concerned," Fogh Rasmussen said. "There's still a risk that Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorism if we leave earlier. This is the reason we will stay and see through our commitment."
Trilateral talks on security began Tuesday between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, though top U.S. regional envoy Marc Grossman did not attend after officials said he fell ill.
Also Tuesday, NATO said a French aircraft crashed but that no one was injured. French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said the Mirage fighter jet crashed while escorting a convoy in Helmand province, likely due to mechanical problems with the plane.
It was the first crash of a French aircraft in the near decade the nation has been involved with the NATO operation, Burkhard said. In April, a helicopter from the NATO-led coalition crashed in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan, killing one foreign service member.
NATO forces have faced violent protests over night raids on villages as they try to flush out insurgents. On Monday night, NATO forces in southern Helmand province conducting a search shot and killed an Afghan who they said acted hostile and raised an object toward troops, the coalition said in a statement.
The man only had a flashlight in his hands, NATO said.
The man continued forward despite translator "instructions and warnings which were relayed in multiple ethnic languages," the coalition said. "This series of callouts was ineffective in allowing the security force to detain the individual peacefully."
NATO also said Tuesday that a service member died in an explosion Monday in southern Afghanistan. The British Defense Ministry said the soldier from the 1st Battalion The Rifles was killed while on patrol in Helmand province.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Patrick Quinn in Herat contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
- spring offensive
- Anders Fogh Rasmussen
- NATO Secretary General