NATO strike, militant attack kills at least 20 in Afghanistan

Four women and four children among the dead, Afghan officials say

Afghan officials say a drone strike killed fifteen people in eastern Kunar province, 9 of them were civilians.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Taliban militants detonated a car bomb outside an Afghan intelligence office near the capital Sunday, then tried to attack the office on foot with guns, killing at least four soldiers and six militants, officials said. Hazrat Janan, a member of the Wardak provincial council, described the explosion as powerful, saying that it shattered windows in a wide stretch of the city.

Separately Sunday, Afghan officials said a NATO airstrike killed 15 people -- nine of them civilians, including women and children -- in a Taliban stronghold in a remote eastern province of Afghanistan. NATO said 10 militants died in the strike, but that it had no reports of any civilian deaths.

"We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously," NATO said in a statement.

Both attacks highlight the growing instability in Afghanistan as the United States and foreign forces continue to reduce their military presence and transfer more responsibility to Afghan troops. Sunday's bombing, for instance, occurred in Maidan Shahr, a city in eastern Wardak province that lies just 25 miles from Kabul.

Conflicting reports emerged from the airstrike in the Watapur district of Kunar, a dangerous and difficult to reach area that lies along the border with Pakistan. It is believed that the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups operate in the region, and some are suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda.

Kunar province police chief Abdul Habib Sayed Khaili said the airstrike hit a pickup truck carrying women and children in Qoro village soon after three Arab and three Afghan militants boarded it Saturday evening. He said some reports called it a drone strike, but that Afghan officials had been unable to confirm that. Of the 15 dead, four were women, four were children and one was the driver, the police official said.

A NATO spokeswoman said the military alliance conducted a "precision strike" that killed 10 "enemy forces," but that it had received no reports of any civilians dying. NATO is still investigating the matter.

Attaullah Khogyani, a government spokesman, said the explosion at the intelligence office occurred around 1 p.m. and many of the wounded were Afghan government employees working in nearby offices. Soldiers guarding the compound managed to kill the militants on foot after the attack, he said. Four soldiers and five attackers died, in addition to the car bomber, Khogyani said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Even as U.S.-led foreign forces draw down their presence in Afghanistan, with a full exit expected by the end of 2014, the air support they provide Afghan troops in many regions is still a crucial part of operations against the Taliban, the resurgent militant movement that wants to topple the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Past strikes that kill civilians have infuriated Afghans. President Hamid Karzai has spoken out forcefully against them and banned Afghan troops from requesting NATO airstrikes during operations in residential areas.

But as the violence in Afghanistan has spread in recent years, civilians are increasingly getting caught up in it.

Around 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the first half of this year -- a huge portion of them in insurgent attacks -- according to the United Nations. That marked a 24 percent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year.

Al Jazeera and wire Services

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