Withdrawal based on “conditions on the ground” is not talked about anymore. This is all about the calendar. The top military commander expects international forces will have to fight up until the last day.
Afghanistan has been rocked by two violent incidents, the first resulting in 18 apparent civilian deaths in a pre-dawn NATO missile strike in Logar in the east, and the second involving at least 22 deaths in two suicide attacks in the afternoon in Kandahar in the south.
In a third fatal incident on Wednesday, NATO acknowledged the loss of two soldiers in a helicopter crash in the eastern province of Ghazni.
The NATO assault in Logar, if confirmed, may prove to be another deadly and politically damaging mistake by international forces, whose reputation in Afghanistan is already low.
NATO has denied the report, saying it knows of only two civilians who were lightly injured, but the head of the Logar provincial council has said that 18 civilians died.
“NATO is sticking to the line at the moment that it was targeting a Taliban leader and it called in the air strike and only two women suffered light injuries,” Al Jazeera correspondent Bernard Smith reported from Kabul.
The target of the missile strike was a house in the Baraki Barak district where a tribal elder was meeting Taliban fighters.
International forces learned of the meeting and launched a night raid to arrest the fighters, who opened fire when they were asked to surrender, Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy said.
The soldiers then called in the air attack, he said.
Logar’s council head said the tribal elder and several members of his family, including women and children, were killed.
Seven Taliban fighters, who were nearby, were also killed.
Kandahar suicide attack
Later on Wednesday, two suicide bombers killed at least 22 civilians and wounded dozens more at a market in the southern city of Kandahar, authorities said.
They appeared to be targeting fuel tankers that supply NATO forces and were parked next to a restaurant, our correspondent said.
“The restaurant is used by lorry drivers who deliver fuel to the Kandahar airfield, which is one of NATO’s biggest bases,” he said.
A man riding a motorbike detonated his explosives first, followed shortly after by another man on foot who blew himself up, Al Jazeera’s Azimy said.
Four provincial governors from the south were at a meeting at the nearby NATO base at the airport when the attack took place, General Abdul Hameed, Afghan army commander for the southern region, told Reuters news agency.
The explosion occurred 500m from an Afghan military base and about 5km from the main gate to the NATO airfield.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, later claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar.
In a second incident in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, NATO said two soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash.
The coalition did not disclose any other information about the crash, but a senior US defence official at the Pentagon said two American pilots were killed in the crash in Ghazni province.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to disclose details of the crash, said there was no indication of enemy activity in the area at the time.
Zabiullah Mujahid, another Taliban spokesman, claimed in an email that the group’s fighters shot down the helicopter.