Roadside bomb explosions in southern Afghanistan have killed at least five civilians and five policemen. The attacks came as NATO's new
Secretary General visited Kabul to discuss with Afghan officials and
candidates security steps the international military alliance has put
in place ahead of the August 20 presidential election.
Afghan officials in southern Helmand province say a group of civilians was traveling to a wedding party when their trailer, which was being pulled by a tractor, hit a roadside bomb.
Officials have blamed Taliban insurgents who have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan as part of efforts to discourage voters from taking part in the upcoming presidential election.
Officials say five policemen were also killed in a separate roadside bomb blast in Helmand. The region is a known Taliban stronghold where thousands of U.S Marines and British soldiers are engaged in major anti-insurgency operations to improve security before Afghans go to the polls.
The latest militant attacks come as NATO's new Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discussed the security situation and the alliance's operations with Afghan officials and presidential candidates, including President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking re-election.
Addressing a press conference late Wednesday night in Kabul together with the NATO's visiting secretary-general, Mr. Karzai repeated his message for Taliban insurgents.
Attacking election sites or intimidating people is not only not serving Afghanistan it is actually working against the Afghan people in their very immediate interests for a better life and for [a] stable Afghanistan," Mr. Karzai said. "So my message to the Taliban is to come and participate in the elections and my message to the Afghan people is to be as courageous and as full [of] guts and courage as they always were in Afghan history [and] as they have proven before to come and participate and defy all odds," he continued.
The Afghan president also has recently offered peace talks to Taliban leaders provided they renounce violence and are not linked to al-Qaida terrorists.
Early this week, the top United Nations representative in Afghanistan also called for talks with Taliban leaders, saying discussions with low-level militant commanders may not help end the violence. U.S and British officials have also called for inclusion of Taliban militants in the Afghan political system as long as they agree to end their extremist activities.
speaking in Kabul, NATO's Secretary-General Rasmussen said that he is
also ready to take what he described as pragmatic steps to improve Afghan security.
"However, I would like to make a couple of things clear. Firstly, it has to be a process led by the Afghan government. We need a clear Afghan ownership in such a process. Secondly, I think it is a pre-requisite that the Afghan government can conduct the talks and negotiate from a position of strength," Rasmussen said.
"Therefore there is no alternative whatsoever to continued and
strengthened military efforts. And finally, I would like to make clear
that for me it is also a pre-requisite that the groups we engage with
put down their weapons and abide by the laws in this country," he continued.
The Taliban-led violence has dramatically escalated this year. The month of July has been particularly deadly for U.S and NATO forces that lost more than 70 soldiers, more than half of them Americans. The United Nations says that civilian deaths have risen more than 24 percent in the first half of 2009 caused by both militant attacks and the anti-insurgency operations.
The deteriorating security situation in southern and eastern parts of the country has been a cause of concern for both Afghan election officials and international observers. There are fears the rising Taliban attacks may discourage voters from showing up at polling stations in these areas, raising questions about the legitimacy of Afghanistan's crucial presidential election, the second since the removal of the Taliban from power in 2001.