Insurgents threw hand grenades into two homes in a Taliban provincial heartland on Friday, killing a child and wounding six civilians in an area that has been at the center of the international coalition’s push against the militants, a local Afghan official said.
Zhari, where Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s radical Islamic movement was born just outside Kandahar city, was part of the focus of the U.S. surge of 30,000 troops earlier this year. U.S. troops advanced on the district several months ago as part of a crucial strategy aimed at reducing violence in the nearby city by stemming the flow of fighters and weapons to the urban center.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in the Afghan capital on Friday to speak with the Homeland Security officers working with the Afghan government to secure the country’s porous borders from militants, as well as weapons and drug smugglers. She was to spend New Year’s Eve with U.S, troops and meet with Afghan and U.S. officials in Kabul before heading to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, the U.S. Embassy said, but would not provide further details.
The United States, in an end-of-year review of its strategy in Afghanistan, has cited advances in its push against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Yet the Obama administration, in the five-page section of the review released publicly in mid-December, acknowledged that while Taliban momentum has been stopped in some areas and reversed in others, “gains remain fragile and reversible.”
In September 2006, a Canadian-led force pushed the Taliban out of Zhari and nearby Panjwai in an operation that cost 28 coalition lives. Months later, the Taliban were back.
The Kandahar governor’s spokesman, Zelmai Ayubi, said authorities were investigating why the two houses in Zhari were targeted in Friday’s attack.
Mr. Ayubi said the child was killed by the blast in one house, while those wounded in the second included another child and a woman. The injured were taken to a nearby NATO base for medical treatment. Two of the wounded were in serious condition, he said, condemning the attack and saying that because insurgents were on the run, “now they start killing innocent people.”
Although much of the fighting against the Taliban in recent months has been concentrated in the southern provinces, militants have been expanding their reach, with aid groups citing a deteriorating security situation in other parts of the country, particularly the north and east.
NATO said on Friday that several insurgents and a child had been killed in fighting during a joint operation with Afghan forces targeting a Taliban logistics officer in a compound in Wardak province east of Kabul the previous day.
The joint force came under fire on Thursday from the compound and fired back, killing several insurgents, it said in a statement, without specifying how many. But it said the force found an injured child while securing the compound, and despite evacuating it to a NATO hospital, the child died of its wounds.
“Taliban insurgents continue to put the citizens of Afghanistan in harm by hiding in villages,” Lt. Col. Patrick Hynes, the director for the Combined Joint Operations Center, said in the NATO statement.
In the eastern province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, NATO said its troops and Afghan forces detained several suspected insurgents Thursday, including a man who had been working with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and believed to have coordinated a suicide car bomb attack against an Afghan school and to be responsible for smuggling roadside bomb materials.
To the north in Kunduz province, a joint force killed an insurgent and detained several suspects during an operation against a militant believed to make roadside bombs and suicide vests, and to use anti-aircraft guns against NATO and Afghan forces, the coalition said.