Attacks kill Afghan civilians ahead of Obama review

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KANDAHAR: Violence in north, south and east Afghanistan killed more than a dozen civilians and wounded several more as US President Barack Obama prepares to unveil a review of his strategy for the near decade-long war.
The latest string of attacks comes near the end of the deadliest year since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, with the escalating insurgency costing the lives of a record number of both ordinary Afghans and foreign troops. Obama said on a visit to Afghanistan last week that troops are making “important progress” and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Kabul soon after that he was convinced the war was on the right track.
In southern Afghanistan, a roadside bomb killed 15 civilians and a car bomb wounded five police, in the north a suicide bomber driving a police car wounded nine, and in the east seven men died in a disputed incident that sent hundreds pouring onto the streets of Gardez city in a protest that turned violent.
Police and protesters, both armed in a country awash with weapons, fired at each other and burning tyre barricades filled the streets with smoke. Six civilians and two policemen were wounded, said Nader Noori, doctor at the Gardez hospital.
Local officials said an air strike by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed seven road construction company employees overnight. ISAF said Afghan and foreign troops were approached and then fired on by armed men while hunting an insurgent and shot back, killing seven.
“The security force … is currently assessing who the individuals were, why they were armed and why they were in that area at that time of the morning,” ISAF said in a statement. The suicide attack on Saturday was in northern Kunduz province, an area that was quite peaceful for many years but where the insurgency is now spreading fast. It is also used as a springboard to launch attacks in other provinces.
The attacker drove a police vehicle and targeted an Afghan National Army convoy, wounding five soldiers and four civilians, said Char Dara District Chief Abdul Wahid Omakheil. The Taliban carried out the attack, said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops, casualties have risen rapidly this year.
According to UN figures, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, up by a fifth on the same period in 2009. About 680 troops have been killed so far in 2010, around a third of the number killed since the start of the war. Obama is expected to unveil a review of his Afghanistan war strategy next week, although officials have said they do not expect it to result in any major policy shifts.
He has pledged to start bringing home U.S. troops from July 2011 but has not yet decided on the pace or scale of the withdrawal. Many of his commanders and officials say it should happen gradually. Any drawdown is likely to be more symbolic than substantial, but his 2011 target has drawn criticism from some Republicans who say announcing a date emboldens the Taliban.
In southern Helmand province, one of the heartlands of the insurgency, 15 Afghan civilians were killed on Friday when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, said provincial spokesman Dawud Ahmadi.