KABUL: Suicide bombers killed four Afghans on Saturday and NATO admitted that its troops mistakenly killed three others, as the alliance pledged to start pulling its troops from the battlefield next year.
As NATO leaders vowed to pass on responsibility for ensuring security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, a man, woman and child were killed when a bomber on a bicycle blew himself up in Mihtarlam, in eastern Laghman province.
A second attack in the city just a few minutes later killed one man, the interior ministry said. Twenty-five were wounded in the first attack and eight in the second, it added.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) described the attacks — both claimed by the Taliban — as “reprehensible” while President Hamid Karzai's office called the perpetrators “the enemies of Islam and Afghanistan”.
“Afghanistan cannot have peace and prosperity until Afghan extremists quit murdering Afghan citizens,” ISAF said in a statement.
The military coalition later admitted that its troops killed three people and wounded four others when they came under fire during operations in Kunar province, also eastern Afghanistan, on Friday.
“Three or four rounds landed short of the target area, near a village. As a result, three Afghan civilians were accidentally killed and four wounded,” a statement said.
US Army Colonel Rafael Torres added: “We take civilian casualties seriously and we do everything within our power to prevent civilian casualties in the course of operations — in this case, we failed.”
“Our thoughts and concerns are with the families of this tragic accident,” said Torres, who is director of the ISAF Joint Command Combined Joint Operations Centre.
The United Nations has said that 2010 is the deadliest for civilian casualties since the start of the US-led invasion to oust the hardline Taliban from power nine years ago.
A total of 1,271 ordinary Afghans were killed in the first six months of the year — an increase of a third. Most were due to insurgent attacks.
Domestic and international aid agencies have urged NATO leaders to do more to protect civilians, as the Afghan police and military assume responsibility for securing the war-torn nation.
The Taliban meanwhile said NATO's announcement of its gradual withdrawal of troops from combat roles was a sign that “the invaders are doomed towards the same fate as those that tread this path before them”.
“Their troop surges, their new strategies, their new general, their new negotiations, and their new propagandas have been of no avail,” it said in a statement.
Support for the conflict is waning in NATO member states, with a new poll published this week suggesting that more Americans now oppose the war than back it.
Research published late Friday by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) think tank also suggested that despite its lengthy presence in Afghanistan, NATO still needs to do more to win hearts and minds.
The survey indicated that 92 percent of the 1,000 respondents in the two southern provinces that have witnessed the fiercest fighting were unaware of the September 11, 2001 attacks that prompted the US-led invasion.
It also suggested that 40 percent of those questioned in Helmand and Kandahar provinces believe foreign troops want to destroy Islam or to occupy or destroy the country.
Forty-two percent of a further 500 men questioned in northern Parwan and Panjshir provinces were unable to name positive aspects of democracy, with most in the south unconvinced about the ability of Afghan forces to maintain peace.
A majority also said Al-Qaeda would return if the Taliban resumed power. AGENCIES