Suicide bombs tearing at ordinary Afghan families

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The 50-year-old father of eight died, shovel in hand, simply doing his job.

Dressed in fluorescent orange overhauls, the blue-collar attire of a Kabul municipal employee, Nasir Ali was standing near two steel-gray trash bins when a suicide bomber threw himself at a passing vehicle 10 yards away. Shrapnel pierced Ali's skull, killing him.

The bomber's target was a German Embassy vehicle but everyone inside the armored SUV escaped unharmed. The only people killed in the attack late last month were two Afghans.

Taliban suicide attacks typically target U.S. or NATO troops, Afghan security forces or government officials, but far more bystanders usually get killed, leaving Afghan families in tatters. Late last month alone, two relatively small suicide attacks killed five people. The result was five children quitting school because their families' breadwinners died, making it impossible to pay for school costs.

But often the attacks are far deadlier.

A suicide attack at a dogfight outside Kandahar in February killed 102 people, including a district police chief who appeared to be the target. In July, a suicide bombing against the Indian Embassy killed dozens of civilians walking on the busy commercial street. Last month, eight Afghans died in a bombing in the east that also killed one U.S. soldier.

"I'm surprised at the tolerance of the Afghan population," said U.S. military spokesman Col. Greg Julian, adding he would expect the ever increasing losses to trigger a greater outcry by the people or eliminate support for the Taliban.

According to figures compiled by The Associated Press, there have been 384 civilians, 97 Afghan security forces and 22 NATO or U.S. troops killed in at least 129 suicide attacks this year. In November alone, 29 civilians were killed in at least 17 suicide attacks in the country.

The Taliban are believed to be responsible for the vast majority of suicide attacks, based on their claims of activity on the Internet, said Adam Raisman, a senior analyst at SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors militant Web Sites.

Reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar has in the past called on his fighters not to carry out attacks around civilians, apparently aware that such killings hurts the militia's cause. But U.S. commanders have said that a younger breed of militants has replaced dozens of Taliban leaders killed in battle who care less about civilian deaths.

Raisman said spokesmen for the militants often claim responsibility for attacks that kill soldiers or officials, and they often deny responsibility for attacks that kill large numbers of civilians blaming civilian casualties on Afghan, U.S., British and other foreign forces.

The U.N. said in September that 1,445 Afghan civilians had been killed this year by insurgents or U.S.- and NATO-led forces, a 40 percent increase over 2007.

However, according to the U.N. figures, insurgents cause far more deaths than U.S., NATO and Afghan troops. About 55 percent, or 800 deaths, were caused by insurgents, including 142 summary executions, the U.N. said. Forty percent of the deaths, or 577, were caused by U.S., NATO or Afghan troops. The figures included all types of violence.

While the numbers do not break down responsibility for the deaths attributed to NATO-led forces, the U.S. in particular has been criticized for causing civilian deaths when carrying out airstrikes.

One of the most deadly occurred August 22, in western Afghanistan where an Afghan government commission found that some 90 civilians, including children, were killed. The U.S., after denying that civilians had died, now says 33 civilians were killed.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, along with humans rights organizations, has condemned the U.S. for such actions and says they need to exercise more caution.

While suicide attacks and their Afghan victims garner headlines for a day, the repercussions for families are relentless.

Ali left behind eight children and a wife. Only his two eldest sons, both of whom work in a candy factory, make any solid income, about $180 a month combined. His youngest children sit on the floor of the family's spartan one-room home and weave carpets - child labor that would be illegal in the West.

"Life is hard for us now," Khaliq Dad, Ali's 12-year-old son, said while weaving carpets with his sisters. "When my father was alive he was the provider in our family. But now we will have to work on our own."

Ali had worked for the municipality for two years, earning $80 a month on a team of men who swept Kabul's streets. His salary didn't even cover the $100 a month rent on the family's mud-brick house.

"I don't think that my brothers and sister can go to school any more, it seems more difficult to me now," said Mir Dad, an 18-year-old brother who works at the candy factory. "Our father's martyrdom will have a negative effect on our lives. We lost our father and our supporter."

In a second suicide attack in Kabul late last month, a car bomb exploded about 200 yards from the U.S. Embassy. The Interior Ministry said a convoy of foreign troops was the target, but the only people killed were three Afghans, including another municipality worker, Abdul Sameh.

Sameh, 40, left behind six children, his wife and his mother, who lives with the family. His wife, 30-year-old Shaima, who goes by one name, is now in a desperate situation. She said she has no firewood for the winter even as Kabul's harshest season is beginning to set in.

"My children have no clothes. I don't know what will happen with my children," she said. "Two of my children were at school, but they can't go to school any more. It is difficult for me to feed them. How would it be possible for me to pay their school expenses?"


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