US Diplomat Says Afghan Road Bombings up in 2008

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The number of roadside bombs and kidnappings doubled in Afghanistan in 2008 from the year previous, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, grim statistics that underscore the country's deteriorating security situation.

The number of roadside bombs rose from roughly 1,000 in 2007 to 2,000 in 2008, while the number of kidnappings jumped from about 150 to 300, said Ambassador William Wood.

Compiling accurate data for roadside bombs and kidnappings is difficult, he said, and the numbers were approximate.

Speaking at an end-of-the-year news conference, Wood called 2008 a "good year but also a hard year."

Afghanistan, he said, saw progress against opium poppies, the main ingredient in heroin, as land for cultivating them dropped by almost 20 percent in 2008.

International donors also pledged some $20 billion in aid at a conference in Paris, he noted.

But violence also rose and the Taliban insurgency spread throughout southern Afghanistan. Because of that, the U.S. next year will send up to 30,000 new forces to the country to reinforce the 32,000 American soldiers already there.

The rise in the number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, likely came because Taliban and other militant fighters can't compete with U.S. and NATO forces on the battlefield, Wood said.

"IEDs don't' really advance the terrorists' cause," Wood said. "They don't win them any territory. They don't win any friends ... All they do is prove to everyone the continued presence and brutality of the terrorists."

The Taliban in the last year has pushed into remote areas of Afghanistan where the government has little presence and Afghan and international security forces rarely reach. To counter that, the U.S. will soon begin a pilot program to train Afghan tribal members selected by their local leaders to help defend their villages, Wood said.

The ambassador stressed repeatedly that the U.S. would not provide any weapons for the community defense program and it wasn't the re-creation of tribal militias. He said Afghanistan has always depended on local groups to defend their communities, and that President Hamid Karzai asked the U.S. to strengthen villagers' defense initiatives.

Community-selected tribesmen would receive training, uniforms and means to communicate with Afghan and international security forces in case of an attack, Wood said.

"What we're trying to do, not arm them or disarm them in this regard, but strengthen the community in such a way that it is more self-reliant and it can resist the infiltration and the intimidation ... and the beheadings, and the beatings and the threats against schoolchildren that the Taliban seems to be relying on," he said.

Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said at a separate news conference Tuesday that the government is against arming local militias and does not want to reverse efforts to disarm militias around Afghanistan the last several years.

"This is just giving an opportunity to different tribes and communities and making them powerful in their area," Hamidzada said. "We want people to know they are part of the government and they also have responsibility to provide security in their areas."


Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.