KABUL, Afghanistan – Three Afghan aid workers were killed Saturday when their vehicle hit a bomb on a highway just south of the capital, while 7,000 Afghan and U.S. troops launched an operation against Taliban insurgents in five eastern and central provinces.
Police said the unidentified aid workers were killed and a fourth was injured when a remote-controlled bomb exploded under their vehicle. The attack was the fourth major bombing in eight days.
Afghanistan, a conservative Muslim country run by a moderate elected government, is experiencing an insurgency by thousands of fighters loyal to the Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement that ruled for six years and was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
In recent months, the Taliban has unleashed the worst wave of violence in more than four years across southern Afghanistan and in other provinces. Attacks have been carried out by several hundred forces and by lone suicide bombers.
In the latest of several offensives against the Taliban, officials said that 4,000 Afghan soldiers and police accompanied by 3,000 U.S. troops began moving Saturday into five provinces that have experienced increasing insurgent violence – Khost, Ghazni, Paktia, Paktika and Logar.
U.S. military officials here said the operation, called Mountain Fury, was one of several aimed at “placing continuous pressure on Taliban extremists” in order to bring security, governance and development to impoverished rural regions.
The officials said the operation would be accompanied by $43 million in aid projects, including new schools, roads, bridges and 26 district administration centers. Taliban forces have attacked and destroyed such district centers in remote areas of several provinces.
“While we offer stability, governance and reconstruction, the Taliban offer oppression and violence in the form of killing innocent Afghans attending funerals, burning schools and murdering effective governors,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, senior commander of U.S. forces here, said in a statement.
Hakim Taniwal, 63, the governor of Paktia province, was assassinated by a suicide bomber last Sunday. The next day, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at Taniwal’s funeral in the governor’s native Khost province, killing six people.
In the southern province of Kandahar, where 10,000 NATO troops have been battling Taliban fighters for nearly two weeks, NATO officials said Saturday that they had killed more than 500 insurgents and liberated two districts near the provincial capital that the Taliban had attempted to capture and hold.
The NATO forces are being assisted by 2,500 U.S. soldiers, including helicopter crews.
“This was a decisive success,” said Mark Laity, a NATO spokesman in Kabul. He said the Taliban had drawn fighters from many areas to take a stand in the Panjwai and Zhari districts. “They fought for a long time, and they lost,” he said.