MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed three German soldiers and six civilians in a crowded street market in northern Afghanistan on Saturday in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
Afghan policemen investigate the site of a bomb blast in eastern Shinwar district May 19, 2007. REUTERS/Rafiq Shirzad
It was the deadliest assault on German troops in nearly four years and Berlin’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called it a “brutal terrorist attack”. The soldiers had got out of their vehicle to shop when the bomb went off.
To the south, militants in Kapisa province engaged Afghan and foreign forces overnight in a battle in which several dozen Taliban fighters were believed to have been killed, the U.S.-led coalition said.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent weeks following a winter lull. The Taliban has said it has trained hundreds of suicide bombers.
In Shinwar district near Jalalabad, a remote-controlled bomb killed a police chief and another officer, and wounded three others on Saturday, a local official said.
The spate of attacks this week followed the death of the insurgents’ top operational commander, Mullah Dadullah, in a U.S.-led coalition raid last weekend. It was deemed the biggest blow to the Taliban since they were driven from power in 2001.
The suicide bomber struck in the northern city of Kunduz when the German soldiers got out of their patrol vehicle to shop at a market where pots, green tea and other goods were sold.
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said the soldiers wanted to buy technical equipment needed at the military camp and noted it usual practice to undertake such tasks on foot.
“Suddenly we heard a big sound. We were frightened,” said Aziz, a shopkeeper. “We saw very thick smoke and people rushing to escape.”
In addition to the nine killed in the blast, at least 14 people were wounded, according to local security officials.
Five German soldiers were among the wounded, two seriously, Jung told reporters. They were to be flown to Germany on Sunday.
A Taliban commander claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the death toll was higher.
“Our Taliban mujahid (holy warrior) blew himself up near the German troops and killed more than 10 German soldiers,” Mullah Hayatullah Khan said. “It was a very successful suicide attack on foreign troops and dozens of German soldiers were injured.”
About 3,200 German troops are deployed in Afghanistan, providing security in northern areas that have been relatively safe until recently. The worst violence has been concentrated in southern parts of the country.
In June 2003, four German soldiers were killed and 29 injured when their bus was attacked.
Many Germans have mixed feelings about the Afghanistan deployment as their nation struggles to define its international role more than 60 years after the end of World War Two but Jung was adamant that the attack would not affect Germany’s resolve.
“We will fulfill our mission to support the Afghan government and help bring stability to the country,” he told a news conference in Potsdam.
In Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, militants ambushed and tried to trap Afghan and coalition forces before midnight on Friday in the al-Asay valley, a coalition spokesman said.
“Coalition air strikes were called in. Several dozen enemy fighters were believed to have been killed,” Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, said.
A Taliban spokesman said on Saturday a “spy” who betrayed Dadullah to U.S. forces had been captured. “The spy told us, ‘I am a U.S. spy and provided information about the Taliban,’” Mullah Shohabudin Atal told Reuters by satellite telephone.
Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai in Spin Boldak, Madeline Chambers in Berlin
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