- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Indian Embassy in the bustling center of the Afghan capital Thursday, killing 17 people in the second major attack in the city in less than a month. The Afghan Foreign Ministry hinted at Pakistani involvement - a charge Pakistan denied.

The blast occurred a day after the war entered its ninth year and as President Obama was deliberating a request by the top commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, for up to 40,000 more troops. Opponents of a troop increase want to shift focus to missile strikes and special operations against al Qaeda-linked groups in Pakistan.

On Thursday in New York, the U.N. Security Council voted to extend its authorization for NATO’s 70,000-strong force in Afghanistan for a year, emphasizing the importance of protecting civilians.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, John Sawers, said the resolution’s unanimous adoption by all 15 council members “underlines the extent of international support for the international effort there.”

The resolution calls for more personnel, equipment and other resources for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. It makes no mention of the debate taking place in some NATO capitals on whether to increase or reduce the force.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack - the second against the Indian Embassy in the past two years - and specified that the Indians were the target.

In New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the driver of the SUV “came up to the outer perimeter wall of the embassy in a car loaded with explosives.” Three Indian paramilitary guards were wounded by shrapnel, Mr. Rao said.

Mr. Rao did not say who the Indians believed was responsible for the attack, which occurred about 8:30 a.m. along a commercial street that is also home to the Interior Ministry.

However, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said the attack “was planned and implemented from outside of Afghan borders” by the same groups responsible for the July 2008 suicide bombing at the Indian Embassy that killed more than 60 people.

The ministry statement made no mention of Pakistan. However, the Afghan government blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for the 2008 bombing at the Indian Embassy as well as involvement in a string of attacks in the country.

U.S. officials suspected the 2008 embassy bombing and other high-profile attacks were carried out by followers of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a longtime Afghan militant leader whose forces are battling U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan from sanctuaries in the border area of Pakistan. At the United States’ urging, the Pakistani military said it’s planning an offensive against extremists in the border area.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called allegations of a Pakistani role in the Kabul bombing “preposterous.”

The Taliban did not say why it targeted the Indian Embassy. India and Pakistan, archrivals since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, are competing for influence in Afghanistan among rival ethnic groups. India maintains close ties with the Tajik community, and Pakistan with the Pashtuns, who form the majority of the Taliban.

The Interior Ministry said 15 civilians and two Afghan police officers were killed in Thursday’s blast. At least 76 people were wounded, the ministry said. President Hamid Karzai, the U.S. Embassy and the U.N. mission condemned the attack.

After months of relative calm, the Afghan capital has been shaken recently by an increasing number of suicide attacks and roadside bombings that began in the run-up to the country’s disputed Aug. 20 election.

c Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.

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