63 killed as Afghan violence escalates
* 25 die in factional fighting
* 15 perish in bus explosion
* 16 guerrillas, 5 Afghan soldiers killed in Taliban attack
* Pakistani and Arab Qaeda men held
KABUL: At least 63 people were killed and dozens wounded in outbreaks of violence across Afghanistan in the country’s bloodiest 24 hours in more than a year, officials said on Wednesday.
At least 25 people, most of them factional fighters, were killed after fighting erupted early on Wednesday between forces of a sacked provincial official and his successor in a remote district of Uruzgan province, a cabinet minister said.
Also on Wednesday, at least 15 died, including a woman and children, when a suspected Taliban bomb blew apart a bus in the southern province of Helmand. AFP put the death toll from the explosion at 17. Government forces said they killed 16 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and lost five of their own in clashes in the southeast that began late on Tuesday.
The cabinet minister, who did not want to be further identified, said the fighting in Uruzgan involved supporters of Amanullah, the former ruler of the remote district of Kajran and his successor, Abdul Rahman Khan. He quoted Mr Khan as saying it started after Mr Amanullah’s fighters opened fire on a bus carrying his supporters. “Khan told me eight of his people died in the bus incident, in which 20 were wounded, and he lost seven others. Amanullah told me 10 of his men, including close family, were killed.” The minister said the fighting was continuing and the central government was trying to broker a ceasefire.
Ghulam Mahaiuddin, head of administration in Helmand, said the bus blast there happened early in the morning in Nadi Ali district, west of the provincial capital Lashkargah. “Eight of those killed on the bus were male, six of them were children and there was a woman too,” he told Reuters.
“It was a massive explosion. Police gathered body parts from the area and after we gathered all the body parts we reckoned 17 people were killed ... half of them were children,” provincial security chief Abdul Rahman Sabir told AFP.
Mr Mahaiuddin said it appeared the bomb had gone off accidentally inside the bus and may have been intended for an attack on independence celebrations in Lashkargah next week. He blamed Taliban guerrillas and said it was possible the bomber died in the blast. In the southeastern province of Khost, border forces said they had killed 16 Taliban and Al Qaeda guerrillas repulsing a major attack in which five border policemen were also killed.
Border police officer Major Ghafar said the insurgents used heavy guns, rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a base used by a border battalion in the Shinkai area east of Khost and adjacent to the border with Pakistan on Tuesday. He said the fighting continued overnight. “The Taliban attack has been foiled. But we are continuing our mopping up,” he said, adding that two Arabs from the Al Qaeda network had been captured.
Khost corps commander General Khial Baz Khan confirmed two people were arrested, but said one of them was a Pakistani.
Major Ghafar described it as the biggest attack in the area since the Taliban fell. “In the past, they have staged small-scale attacks, but this one was the most serious of all,” he said. Shellfire could be heard in the background as Major Ghafar spoke by satellite telephone. “The sound you can hear is outgoing fire,” he said, adding government forces had counterattacked after a three-phase guerrilla assault that lasted until 6.30am. He said he did not know how many guerrillas had taken part, but the attack had been led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former minister in the Taliban regime.
Police in Kabul said two student Taliban supporters were killed and one wounded after a car bomb they were making blew up in a western suburb of the capital on Tuesday. —AFP/Reuters