In Eastern Afghanistan Roadside Bomb Kills 10 Civilians

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KABUL — One roadside bomb killed 10 civilians Wednesday in a van along a route used by foreign troops in eastern Afghanistan while another wounded three Australian troops _ highlighting a tactic increasingly favored by Taliban militants.

The roadside bombings show the dangers that will be faced by the additional 17,000 U.S. troops President Barack Obama has pledged to send to Afghanistan this year to battle resurgent Taliban militants in the country's south.

The U.S. could end up sending even more troops to Afghanistan as part of an overhauled strategy the Obama administration is expected to announce later this week.

U.S. troops first faced widespread roadside bomb attacks in Iraq, where they caused thousands of casualties and led the military to spend billions of dollars to build armored vehicles better equipped to keep soldiers safe.

The U.S. military has transferred much of that technology to Afghanistan, but Afghan officials say well-trained militants have also migrated from Iraq, bringing with them the knowledge to carry out more deadly attacks. Also, the rural and often mountainous terrain in Afghanistan provides even more hiding places for roadside bombs than in Iraq, which is more developed.

The number of roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan increased by 30 percent last year, according to NATO. Many of the attacks end up missing the troops being targeted and kill Afghan civilians.

U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, but many of them fled south and east into Pakistan. With the help of bases inside Pakistan, the Taliban has staged a violent comeback. U.S. intelligence officials have said that they suspect rogue elements in Pakistan intelligence of providing key information to the Taliban.

The New York Times carried a report on its Web site late Wednesday, saying that that that assistance might go further than providing information.

The newspaper _ citing American, Pakistani and other security officials who spoke anonymously because they were discussing intelligence information that they are not supposed to make public _ said the widening Taliban campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.

The Times said the support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders. American officials said proof of the ties came from electronic surveillance and trusted informants, the report said. The Pakistani officials said that they had firsthand knowledge of the connections, though they denied that the ties were strengthening the insurgency. The newspaper said the Pakistani Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, told parliament Wednesday that the number of civilians killed by the Taliban during the last Afghan calendar year, which ended on March 20, was 40 times higher than the number killed accidentally by international or Afghan forces. He did not provide specific figures.

The civilians killed Wednesday were traveling on a road in eastern Khost province that is also used by foreign and Afghan troops, said Police Chief Abdul Qajum Bakizoy. He blamed Taliban militants for planting the bomb.

The blast killed seven people instantly, while three others died later of their wounds in the hospital, said Wazir Pacha, the provincial police spokesman. Six people were wounded in the attack, he added.

Neither of the officials knew whether the attack was targeting one of the troop convoys that regularly use the road in Saberi district. The area is known for militant activity and clashes between coalition troops and Taliban fighters.

The Australian troops that were wounded Tuesday were on patrol with Afghan soldiers in southern Uruzgan province, said the Australian Defense Department in a statement. The roadside bomb blast also wounded their interpreter, it said.

Meanwhile, an aircraft operated by a contractor for NATO's International Security Assistance Force made a "hard landing' in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan Wednesday, causing minor injuries to some on board, ISAF said in a statement on its Web site.

It said the landing problem was caused by a "mechanical malfunction" and there were no reports of insurgent activity near the ISAF base where the aircraft landed. The brief statement did not provide any other details.

U.S. commanders have requested a total of 30,000 additional troops to battle the militants, especially in the insurgency's heartland in southern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.

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Associated Press Writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.