- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

KABUL

Civilian injuries caused by roadside bombs and other explosives in southern Afghanistan have soared this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a report, amid rising Taliban violence across much of the country.

Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in the southern city of Kandahar Thursday, injuring at least eight people, while fighting in the north of the country left four German troops dead, officials said.

The explosion in front of the Noor Jehan Hotel shattered windows in the shabby four-story structure, destroyed five vehicles and damaged a number of shops in the area.

In addition, intense fighting was reported in the northern province of Baghlan, where the Taliban has re-emerged as a major threat over recent months. Afghan, German and other international forces battled about 400 Taliban with heavy weapons and air strikes, said provincial police spokesman Habib Rahman.

He said three Afghan police officers were killed in fighting that began Thursday morning, but there was no immediate word of casualties among the insurgents.

The Red Cross said in a report issued Wednesday that the Mirwais Hospital it supports in Kandahar admitted up to 40 percent more patients wounded by bombs in the first two months of the year compared to the same period last year.

It said the wounded came from the surrounding province of Kandahar as well as neighboring Helmand, both areas in which the Taliban have a significant presence and have repeatedly engaged Afghan and foreign forces.

It said the Mirwais Hospital treated 51 patients for injuries caused by homemade bombs in March alone, well above the average monthly figure.

“Homemade bombs and improvised mines continue to pose a major threat to civilians in the south of Afghanistan. In the last few weeks, ICRC personnel at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar have observed a substantial increase in casualties,” the report said.

The insurgency employs roadside bombs and concealed homemade explosives to attack Afghan government forces and NATO troops and spread fear among the populace.

At least 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting last year, an increase of 14 percent from 2008, according to the United Nations. About two-thirds of the civilian deaths were a result of actions initiated by the insurgents, including ambushes, assassinations and roadside bombs, while the percentage of civilian deaths attributed to NATO and Afghan government forces fell.

Despite that, civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. and other international forces are a major concern because they’re believed to fuel resentment of the Afghan central government in Kabul and generate sympathy for the insurgency.

On Thursday, the chief U.N. representative in Afghanistan called for greater attention to civilian safety in the wake of the deaths of four Afghans who died Monday when the bus they were traveling in was fired on by a U.S. military convoy. U.S. forces said they regretted the incident, which remains under investigation.

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