- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber killed 38 Afghans at a crowded market yesterday, pushing the death toll from two days of militant bombings to about 140.

The marketplace blast, which targeted a Canadian army convoy, came a day after the country’s deadliest insurgent attack since a U.S. invasion defeated the Taliban regime in late 2001. The toll from that bombing in a crowd watching a dog fight rose to more than 100.

The back-to-back blasts in the southern province of Kandahar could be a sign insurgents are now willing to risk high civilian casualties while attacking security forces.

Though their attacks occasionally have killed dozens, militants in Afghanistan have generally sought to avoid targeting civilians, unlike insurgents in Iraq’s war.

“The attacks show that the enemies of Afghanistan are changing their tactics. Now they are not thinking about civilians at all,” said Nasrullah Stanikzai, a professor of political science at Kabul University.

“They wanted to cause such big casualties in these attacks to weaken the morale of the government and the international community, to show the world the Afghan government is too weak to prevent them,” he said.

The Taliban denied it carried out Sunday’s attack but immediately claimed responsibility for the market bombing, which took place in the town of Spin Boldak about 100 yards from the border with Pakistan.

The bombings come amid warnings that Afghanistan could see even more violence this year than last year, when a record 6,500 people — most of them militants — were killed. The U.S., with a record high 28,000 soldiers already in the country, is sending 3,200 more Marines in April.

Hours before the marketplace bombing, Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid raised the toll from Sunday’s attack from about 80 to more than 100, saying some of the dozens who suffered wounds had died.

Mr. Khalid said 38 persons died in yesterday’s bombing and 28 were wounded. Three Canadian soldiers also had wounds, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said.

The governor complained that Canadian troops had failed to heed government warnings to stay away from the Pakistan border.

“We informed the Canadian forces to avoid patrolling the border areas because our intelligence units had information that suicide attackers were in the areas and wanted to target Canadian or government forces,” he said. “Despite informing the Canadians, they went to those areas anyway.”

A Canadian military spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Pierre Babinsky, said threats of attacks would not deter troops from their missions.

“We regularly receive threat warnings and obviously we go where we want to, when we want to, in our area of operation,” Cmdr. Babinsky said. “We obviously take notice of these warnings, but our aim is to operate freely within our area of operation despite those.”

Though the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was closed yesterday because of national elections in Pakistan, some of the wounded were taken to a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan, just across the border.

One of them, Abdul Hakim, lay in a hospital bed, his clothes caked with dust and splattered with blood.

“A white Toyota Corolla car rammed the second vehicle in the convoy as it passed through the bazaar,” said Mr. Hakim, who witnessed the attack from his grocery store. “Then there was a huge explosion. It was dust. I do not know what happened to me.”

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