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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

7 dead in suicide attack in northern Afghanistan

Top general wounded, 7 dead in suicide attack in northern Afghanistan

A top coalition general wounded in a suicide attack Saturday in northern Afghanistan -- one that left seven dead and eight others hurt -- said weeks earlier that he'd charged international troops to "show Afghans ... respect," in part to contrast with brazen actions by the likes of the Taliban.

The attack in Taloqan occurred at a high-level meeting of Afghan and coalition officials in a governor's office, a provincial spokesman said. A Taliban spokesman said that the group, whose fight to resume control in Afghanistan has picked up in recent months, was responsible.

Maj. Gen. Markus Kneip, a veteran German office and the regional head of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force across nine provinces of northern Afghanistan, is in stable condition after suffering non-life threatening injuries, a German general said. The provinces border Turkmenistan east to China.

A soldier since 1975, Kneip is also senior commander of all German troops in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, according to a biography on the military alliance's website. He returned in February to the position, which he also held in 2006, leading more than 12,000 coalition troops from 16 countries.

In an April press briefing coordinated by the U.S. Department of Defense, Kneip said he'd noticed a "huge difference" in the coalition commitment to the region compared to five years earlier, saying "we are doubling and tripling our efforts." He also spoke of the "huge burden" placed on coalition troops "to be careful with their actions" in order to win over Afghans.

"We ask them to follow these rules (to) distinguish our actions from the Taliban, who take advantage of children, who take advantage of children, and put (suicide attackers) in, which is a cruel doing," Kneip said, according to a transcript of his answers on the U.S. Department of Defense website.

The attack came at a meeting, held in the governor's office in Taloqan, "to talk about security in this region, especially after the demonstrations in recent days," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters.

He was referring to a May 18 incident in which German soldiers shot in front of their camp a number of demonstrators -- angry about NATO airstrike that killed four insurgents, including two armed females -- who they allege had become violent.

Provincial government spokesman Faiz Mohammad Tawhidi blamed protesters whom he said threw grenades and "opened fire on protesters and security forces." Two German soldiers and four Afghan guards were injured during the clashes, according to the German military.

"New trust was to be initiated," de Maiziere said of Saturday's meeting.

The meeting attendees included high-ranking authorities from the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army and ISAF members, said an interior ministry spokesman, Zemaray Bashari.

In a telephone interview, Taliban spokesman Zabulliah Mojahed said, "Our sacrificed mujahedeen targeted the high-ranking Afghan authorities together with the international forces who were attending a security meeting as advisers and they were planning to launch an operation against the Taliban in the north in this meeting."

"After our mujahedeen found (out) about this meeting, then it was targeted by our suicide bomber," he told CNN from an unknown location.

Two Germans were killed, as was thepolice chief of Takhar province, Shah Jahan Noori; and the regional police chief, Gen. Dawood Dawood, said Faiz Mohammad Tawhidi, a spokesman for provincial Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa.

Dawood Dawood was a veteran anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance commander. His roles since the Taliban's ouster include being one of Afghanistan's lead point-persons in trying to stifle the production of opium poppies -- from which the drug heroin is made.

The governor's secretary and two guards were also killed, said Qari Sadiqullah, secretary of the provincial council. Most of the wounded suffered burns, he said.

Taqwa himself was wounded, his spokesman said.So, too, were three German soldiers, according to de Maiziere.

The German general told reporters that Kneip and other commanders had participated Saturday morning in a memorial ceremony for a German soldier who had died Wednesday near Kunduz.

ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Vic Beck condemned what he called "the senseless murder of these Afghans and coalition members who have fought so hard for the people of Afghanistan.

"ISAF will remain relentless in our support to our Afghan partners to find those responsible and bring them to justice," he said.

The attack came two days after eight U.S. troops died when two improvised explosive devices blew up in Shorabak District, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Kandahar, according to ISAF.

That region -- on the opposite end from where Saturday's attack occurred -- has been the site of a spate of recent violence, after Taliban forces unleashed multiple attacks earlier this month in their so-called spring offensive.

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