- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President Hamid Karzai said that U.S. plans to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year had boosted the Taliban’s spirits, while an insurgent attack killed eight Afghan police in the country’s increasingly volatile north Thursday.

Speaking to a visiting U.S. congressional delegation, Mr. Karzai said the July withdrawal date had provided “morale value” to the insurgency, the presidential office said.

Mr. Karzai also told the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, that terrorism could not be defeated without rooting out terrorist sanctuaries across the border — a likely reference to Pakistan, where the Taliban and other groups are believed to recruit fighters and base their leadership.

The increasingly outspoken Afghan leader’s comments echo a common complaint among President Obama’s critics that the deadline gives the Taliban motivation to hold out until after next July and then make a new push for power. Mr. Obama himself has stressed that any troop withdrawals will be linked to the security situation, and American military leaders have recently been saying it could take much longer to train Afghan forces.

Violence has spiked around the country as the Taliban push back against a new security push by U.S.-led international force — bolstered by 30,000 U.S. troops in the insurgents’ southern and eastern strongholds.

More than 10 militants attacked the police checkpoint outside the northern city of Kunduz, said provincial police chief Abdul Raziq Yaqoubi, adding they suspected the attackers were jihadists from Russia’s restive Chechnya region who are active in the surrounding province, also called Kunduz.

He said two or three of the militants were wounded when the police fought back. The militants apparently hoped to steal the policemen’s weapons but were beaten back before they could do so, he said.

Kunduz has seen an increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign coalition forces who rely on a supply line running south through the province from neighboring Tajikistan. Foreign fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf infiltrate the region from the rugged mountainous border with Pakistan to the east.

Investigations, meanwhile, continued into Wednesday’s attack on Spanish troops at a base in the northwestern province of Badghis used by members of Spain’s paramilitary Civil Guard to train Afghan police.

Majid Khan Shakib, a member of parliament from Badghis, said the attacker’s sister was married to the provincial Taliban commander and the shooting was engineered to incite an uprising against the Spanish. The shooter was killed at the scene by other Spanish police.

After word of the shooting spread, several hundred people protested and hurled stones at the Spanish compound. At least one vehicle was torched and 25 people were wounded by gunshots, although it was not clear who was shooting.

“The Taliban infiltrated the crowd yesterday and agitated everybody. They told people the Spanish were there to colonize the country,” Mr. Shakib said.

Spain’s Interior Ministry initially said the officers’ driver opened fire on the men during a training exercise Wednesday. However, Spanish media and Afghan officials said Thursday the shooter was a driver with the Afghan police who occasionally also drove the Spanish officers. He carried an unregistered Kalashnikov rifle to a security checkpoint at the camp entrance and opened fire, provincial police chief Sayed Ahmad Sami said.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said deliberate killings by Taliban infiltrators were “still very isolated,” adding that training Afghan security forces would remain the foundation of a strategy to pass responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

“There are thousands of Afghan army and police being trained every day by NATO soldiers, and it works well. Unfortunately, there are still occasionally incidents like these,” Appathurai said.

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