KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A suicide car bomber struck early today outside the main NATO base in southern Afghanistan, killing two civilians and wounding 14 other people, as U.S. Marines pressed a major anti-Taliban offensive in a neighboring province.
The bomber blew himself up near the gates of Kandahar Airfield, said Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai, the top military commander for southern Afghanistan.
Those wounded included 12 civilians and two Afghan soldiers, Zazai said. The attack came as thousands of U.S. Marines in neighboring Helmand province mounted a major offensive against the Taliban. Over the weekend, insurgent attacks killed three British soldiers in the province, a militant stronghold and hub of the vast Afghan drugs trade.
It wasn’t clear if the British casualties had been involved in the Marine operation.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Helmand offensive is “the first significant one” since President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to try to reverse the militant gains.
“We’ve made some advances early. But I suspect it’s going to be tough for a while,” Mullen told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
The admiral described the goal of Marines’ push as not just driving out the Taliban from areas they control, but securing the area to allow the Afghan government to operate.
Obama’s administration expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year’s end. In the country’s east, meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped 16 Afghan mine clearers as they traveled between Paktia and Khost provinces on Saturday, said Paktia’s police chief Azizullah Wardak. He could not say who was responsible for the kidnapping. Similar incidents have happened twice before in Paktia but were resolved successfully, he said.