Taliban kill 16 at Afghan police checkpoint
The Taliban killed at least 16 people at an Afghan police checkpoint Wednesday and bombed an army bus in Kabul, highlighting a growing trend of strikes on Afghan rather than NATO targets.
Details of the pre-dawn attack on an Afghan Local Police (ALP) checkpoint in the eastern province of Ghazni were murky. Officials said they were investigating how the militants breached security at the post.
ALP national commander General Alishah Ahmadzai said 10 policemen and "five or six local villagers" who took part in an uprising against the Taliban in the Andar district of Ghazni had been killed.
"Initial information shows they were first poisoned and then shot, but we have to wait for the final report of our investigative team," he said.
Two other provincial officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 16 died in the attack and all were policemen. The same officials said the Taliban poisoned the men before shooting them and seizing their weapons.
Provincial governor Musa Khan Akbarzada gave a death toll of 17 including seven civilians and said a team had been sent to investigate the incident.
A spokesman for the Taliban, who are leading an 11-year fight against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, claimed responsibility for the Ghazni killings and the suicide attack in Kabul.
The bomber struck the army bus on foot on a main road at around 7:10 am (0240 GMT), said Kabul police spokesman Hashmatullah Stanikzai.
He said six members of the defence ministry and four civilians were wounded, with most of the civilian injuries caused by shattered glass.
A witness told the TOLO television channel that the bomber was carrying an umbrella to shield himself from snow.
"I was standing across the street when I saw a man holding an umbrella approach the army bus. He then slid under the bus. I thought he was the driver, but moments later the explosion happened," he said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP that 17 personnel were killed and 17 seriously injured. The Taliban routinely exaggerate the tolls from attacks they claim.
Western officials say insurgents are shifting their strategy away from focusing on the US-led NATO combat mission, which is due to withdraw next year, to targeting Afghan forces preparing to take over.
Among 10 attacks recorded by AFP in Afghanistan so far this year, only one of them targeted NATO troops, on January 25 in the troubled eastern province of Kapisa. Five civilians were killed in that attack.
All others have targeted tribal elders, police or Afghan intelligence agents.
"Since the start of the year, the objective has mainly been Afghans, even if NATO remains a target," a Western security official told AFP.
The Pentagon admitted Tuesday that NATO's International Security Assistance Force had wrongly reported a seven percent decline in Taliban attacks last year, saying that the number was in fact roughly the same as in 2011.
"This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check. We are making the appropriate adjustments," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
The US government and NATO have repeatedly touted a purported drop in insurgent attacks as proof that the Taliban are on the retreat. The error raised questions about how governments and commanders are portraying the war effort.
The accurate number for insurgent attacks in 2012 showed the assaults had remained at the same level as in 2011, at more than 3,000, a US official said.
The United States and NATO have around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan but the vast majority will leave next year, with an estimated 352,000 NATO-trained Afghan police and soldiers taking over.