- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

KABUL — Two separate bombings killed 11 people near Afghanistan’s volatile eastern border with Pakistan on Saturday, officials said, marring a festive day throughout the country as citizens celebrated the Persian new year.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a NATO soldier was killed in a “hostile incident” in the country’s south, the military alliance said Saturday.

A bomb detonated by remote control killed five people near a shrine in the country’s eastern Khost province as they celebrated Nowruz, the Persian new year, said the provincial police spokesman, Wazir Pacha. The blast on the outskirts of Khost city wounded five people, he said.

Nowruz is celebrated in many countries, like Afghanistan, that were once part of the powerful Persian empire. The Taliban discouraged Afghan citizens from celebrating the holiday when they ruled the country in the 1990s because they deemed it un-Islamic. But people began celebrating Nowruz more openly again after the militant group was toppled by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

North of Khost in Nangarhar province, a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at a police checkpoint, killing six people, including five civilians and one policeman, said police spokesman Gafor Khan. The blast also wounded four civilians and a policeman at the security post set up to search cars entering Chaparhar district for the new year celebrations, he said.

Afghan police, who have less training and fewer weapons than Afghan soldiers, often bear the brunt of insurgent attacks.

Richard Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Saturday that a new U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan would focus on improved recruitment and training of the country’s national police force.

Holbrooke, speaking at a debate in Brussels, said the plan would push for a “very significant increase” in the numbers of police.

He said a larger police force will free up NATO and U.S. troops to concentrate solely on military actions to help stabilize Afghanistan.

The NATO fatality in the country’s south occurred Friday, the same day four Canadian troops serving with the NATO-led force were killed in two separate explosions, the alliance said.

The Saturday statement did not disclose the victim’s nationality or the site of the incident.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency. Thousands of new U.S. troops soon will be joining British, Canadian and Dutch forces trying to reverse gains by the Taliban and expand governance and security.

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