KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two deadly bombings in Afghanistan yesterday underscored the difficulties in combating the nightmarish tactics of the Taliban insurgency, a campaign now increasingly using suicide bombers moving through cities in search of vulnerable targets.
Yesterday's bombings claimed seven victims, including the deputy governor of turbulent Helmand province, who was blown up while praying in a mosque.
The attacks underscored the declining sense of security in many parts of the country, where U.S. and other NATO troops are trying to suppress a revived insurgency. Although NATO argues that it has rolled back the Taliban's territorial gains in Afghanistan's violent south and eastern regions, the insurgents have increasingly turned to terrorist attacks with the aim of weakening support for the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
Yesterday's first attack was an early morning car bombing that apparently targeted a passing Afghanistan National Army bus on a road in Kabul, the capital. The blast killed a civilian and injured four others, according to the Interior Ministry.
Kabul was immediately gripped by rumors that other would-be bombers were roaming the streets in search of targets.
Another strike came hours later, though not in the capital. A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a mosque during afternoon prayers in Helmand's provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, killing Pir Mohammad, the province's deputy governor. Six others were killed, including the bomber, police said.
Helmand is the heart of Afghanistan's lucrative heroin trade, and the provincial government had begun a new eradication program just two days ago. But Western officials in Helmand said it was extremely unlikely the deputy governor's murder was narcotics-related, noting that suicide bombings are a hallmark of religious extremists, not warlords and criminal gangs enmeshed in the drug trade.
Mohammad's killing was seen as a blow to efforts by British troops to restore confidence in security among the population in Helmand. The deputy governor had been working closely with the British to establish government institutions that would allow foreign troops and civilian officials to adopt a lower profile, a key component of NATO's evolving counterinsurgency strategy.
The British have been making territorial gains against the Taliban in recent months, evicting them from former strongholds and claiming that improved security has led Afghan citizens to begin informing on intended Taliban suicide bombers.
But yesterday's blasts show that some suicide bombers continue to get through the security mesh. The developing problem, Western officials say, is the Taliban tactic of "random" suicide bombings, in which would-be attackers drive or walk through the city waiting until they spot security flaws and high-profile targets.
Security sources say they believe the Jan. 14 commando-style assault on Kabul's Serena Hotel that killed seven was one such attack of opportunity. They believe the gunmen and suicide bombers did not necessarily plan to hit the hotel on that day, at that hour. Instead, they were dropped in the neighborhood, armed, and chose to strike the Serena when they spotted a perceived weakness in the hotel's security.
The Taliban subsequently vowed to hit restaurants and other places in Kabul where members of the international community tend to gather after work, a threat that has led most foreigners to adopt a much lower profile.
Bruce Wallace writes for the Los Angeles Times