By Richard Oppel and Abdul Waheed Wafa
New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven people were killed Sunday evening when a bus struck a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, the latest casualties in Afghanistan’s rising toll of civilian dead.
As many as 14 other Afghans were wounded in the blast in Paktia Province.
“Most of the victims were children and women,” an Afghan police spokesman, Mohammed Usman, said.
The bomb exploded hours after a gun battle between Taliban guerrillas and Afghan security forces in the area, Mr. Usman said.
The rate at which Afghan civilians are being killed in the fighting there is increasing. This year, 173 were killed between March 21 and April 21, mostly from roadside bombs and suicide attacks, one-third more than in the same period in 2009, said Zemary Bashary, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry. At least 380 Afghans were wounded in the same period this year.
Total militant attacks rose nearly one-third, to 500, in the same period — most of them in Kandahar, Helmand, Khost and Ghazni Provinces. Seventy-three Afghan police officers were killed and 150 wounded.
Insurgents are causing most civilian deaths, Afghan officials say. But stepped-up military campaigns and a huge increase in the number of Western troops are also taking a rising toll: At least 72 Afghans were accidentally killed by American and NATO troops in the first three months of this year, compared with about 30 in the same period last year, NATO officials say.
The numbers are certain to grow during the summer, normally the period of the bloodiest fighting. This year a huge American and NATO offensive is planned for Kandahar, the large southern city that was the center of power when the Taliban led the country.
Already, at least 173 American and NATO troops have been killed here in 2010, an increase of almost 90 percent compared with the same period last year, according to figures compiled by icasualties.org, which tracks military deaths.
The latest came Sunday: A British soldier was killed in an explosion near a patrol base in Sangin, one of the most volatile regions of Helmand Province. A British military spokesman said the man was killed while “providing protection to his fellow soldiers who were returning from a patrol.”