Eighteen people, including five U.S. soldiers and a Canadian officer, were killed Tuesday morning in a rush-hour attack on a convoy of five unmarked armored SUVs carried out by the Taliban in "the heart of the Afghan capital," the New York Times reported. -- The attack came just as "President Hamid Karzai was preparing to meet the Afghan and foreign news media only hours after his return from Washington, where he had met with President Obama and other senior American officials," and "as Afghan leaders and NATO commanders are preparing to launch a major offensive in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home. If nothing else, the attack seemed intended to remind American and Afghan leaders of what the next several months might hold in store as the offensive unfolds," said Dexter Filkins, a remarkable reporter whose extraordinary literary talents and eye for the macabre won him the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Forever War. -- Filkins described the effects of the bomb, which the Taliban claimed weighed more than 1,600 pounds: "Limbs and entrails flew hundreds of feet, littering yards and walls and streets. The survivors, many of them women and children, some of them missing limbs, lay in the road moaning and calling for help." -- "In a passenger bus, an Afghan woman lay dead in her seat, cut in half, with her baby still squirming in her arms. Fifty yards away, a man’s head lay on the hood of a truck." -- "As Mr. Tahiri spoke, an Afghan soldier appeared, carrying a large red trash bag. It was, he said, filled with human brains. 'What do you want me to do with this?' he asked. 'Do you want me to bury it, or do you want to take it?'" -- The Canadian killed was "the highest-ranking Canadian casualty to date," the Toronto Star said. -- "Tuesday’s bombing also marked a grim milestone for U.S. forces, bringing the toll of American dead in Afghanistan beyond 1,000 since 2001," Mitch Potter said....
TALIBAN CAR BOMB STRIKES U.S. CONVOY IN KABUL
by Dexter Filkins
New York Times
May 18, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban struck here at the heart of the Afghan capital Tuesday, with a suicide bomber steering his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy as it moved through the thick of rush-hour traffic. The attack killed 18 people, including 5 American soldiers and an officer from Canada, and wounded at least 47 civilians.
The assault, which brought mayhem and carnage to one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, comes as Afghan leaders and NATO commanders are preparing to launch a major offensive in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home. If nothing else, the attack seemed intended to remind American and Afghan leaders of what the next several months might hold in store as the offensive unfolds.
The attack pushed the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan-related operations to more than 1,000 since the American and NATO-led campaign began here in the autumn of 2001. The blast sent a fireball billowing into the air, set cars aflame, and blew bodies apart. Limbs and entrails flew hundreds of feet, littering yards and walls and streets. The survivors, many of them women and children, some of them missing limbs, lay in the road moaning and calling for help.
In a passenger bus, an Afghan woman lay dead in her seat, cut in half, with her baby still squirming in her arms. Fifty yards away, a man’s head lay on the hood of a truck.
“I just dove on the ground to try to save myself,” said Mahfouz Mahmoodi, an Afghan police officer. “And then I got up, and I saw the terrible scene.”
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in a posting on its Web site, saying the group had dispatched a young man named Nizamuddin, a resident of Kabul. The Taliban said that Nizamuddin’s bomb weighed more than 1,600 pounds.
Bombers who have struck in the past have sometimes cruised the capital looking for targets, holding off on the detonator before they have found their marks. Intelligence officers often receive reports that car and suicide bombers have entered Kabul, some of them with no particular targets in mind.
That may have been the case Tuesday morning, when Nizamuddin, if that was his name, steered his minibus into the line of American cars. But even so, the attack came at what turned out to be a highly symbolic moment: just as President Hamid Karzai was preparing to meet the Afghan and foreign news media only hours after his return from Washington, where he had met with President Obama and other senior American officials.
Among the topics discussed in Washington was the Kandahar offensive, aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold on southern Afghanistan. Afghan, and American officials have said that they expect the Taliban to try to counter the operation in any way that they can.
It was the worst attack in Kabul in weeks. The insurgency is a largely rural phenomenon in a largely rural country, and on most days the capital is calm. The peace in the city, such as there is, is kept almost entirely by the Afghan police and army, with the Americans and NATO standing back.
While the Taliban were quick to congratulate themselves for killing the American and NATO soldiers, their statement made no mention of the dead and wounded Afghan civilians. The attack was condemned by the United Nations, NATO, and the American Embassy, which accused the Taliban of “callous disregard” for the lives of ordinary Afghans.
The bomber struck at 8 a.m., when the streets were filled with traffic. The American convoy, which contained a number of armored SUVs, was moving down Dar-ul-Aman Road on the southern edge of the city. The road leads up a hill to the Afghan Counterinsurgency Academy, one of the principal centers for teaching tactics to Afghan officers and enlisted men.
The school, also known as the COIN Academy, sits just behind the Dar-ul-Aman Palace, a grand building built by King Amonullah, an Afghan monarch, early in the 20th century. In the 1980s, the building served as a club for Soviet military officers. It still sits atop the barren hill, riddled with bullet holes and shell holes, a gutted husk.
The explosion sent a plume of fire into the air and ignited the cars and buses all around.
As the chaos unfolded, ambulances converged on the scene, and a pair of Black Hawk helicopters swooped in to take away the dead and wounded NATO soldiers.
“People were calling, ‘Help me, help me,’” said Yusuf Tahiri, an ambulance driver who carried off six dead and two wounded Afghans. “There were body parts everywhere.”
As Mr. Tahiri spoke, an Afghan soldier appeared, carrying a large red trash bag. It was, he said, filled with human brains. “What do you want me to do with this?” he asked. “Do you want me to bury it, or do you want to take it?”
The driver nodded, and the soldier walked around to the back of the ambulance and tossed the bag in the back.
“I have seen so many of these -- so many,” said Mr. Tahiri, the driver, shaking his head.
The blast also flung people and wreckage over into the courtyard of a veterinary clinic of Kabul University. With the mayhem still unfolding, two Afghans, both of them guards at the clinic, sat on the curb and talked.
“I saw something just like this 10 years ago,” Mohammed Hussein said to his friend. “A rocket landed next to my house. Just like this.”
His friend, Abdul Hafiz, gave a weary nod.
“It was very dangerous, very horrible,” he said.
--Sangar Rahimi and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.
OAKVILLE-BORN COLONEL KILLED IN KABUL BOMBING
By Mitch Potter
May 18, 2010
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- It may never be said that Kabul was kind to Canada. But in the painful sweep of our nearly nine-year slog in Afghanistan, it was the place to be.
One must rewind more than six years to find a Canadian soldier taken by the Taliban in the Afghan capital.
But early Tuesday morning it mattered not that Canadians left so light a footprint behind when they moved south of the capital, shifting to combat mode in what is now much deadlier Kandahar Province.
A Toyota minivan packed with a mass of explosives -- 750 kilos, the Taliban claims -- took out not just another Canadian, but the highest-ranking Canadian casualty to date.
Col. Geoff Parker, 42, born and raised in Oakville, became the 145th soldier to die since the mission began in 2002 and the seventh this year. He leaves a wife and two young children -- and by the accounts of his many peers in Kandahar -- a career of limitless potential.
Parker was among at least 18 killed, including five U.S. soldiers, as the blast tore through a main thoroughfare on Kabul’s Western edge.
The apparent target, a convoy of five unmarked SUVs in which Parker and the Americans were riding. But Afghans bore the brunt of the rush-hour attack, which shredded as many as 20 vehicles, killed a dozen civilians and wounding scores more.
“Geoff was well-known, highly respected, and considered a best friend by countless army officers and soldiers across Canada,” said Col. Simon Hetherington, Deputy Commander of Task Force Kandahar, who knew Parker personally.
“The post he was preparing to fill was important and of such high-profile he was hand-picked from across the army to do so. A rising star, his potential was undeniable.”
Canadian Forces were withholding the specifics of Parker’s assignment pending notification of kin of the U.S. soldiers with whom he was traveling. What is known is that he “was in Kabul to interact with the various international organizations there in order to prepare his team for an upcoming deployment.”
Military sources at Kandahar Airfield said there was “no great mystery, nor anything unusual” in the reconnaissance mission the career infantry officer was undertaking. The missing details are unlikely to provoke surprise once they are known. Hetherington described Parker as “a proud member of The Royal Canadian Regiment who excelled in virtually every position he held in the army.
“As a battalion commander, he led from the front and he led with distinction.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General Michaelle Jean, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, and Defense Minister Peter MacKay all issued statements Tuesday, mourning Parker’s death and condemning the attack.
“Colonel Parker was a great Canadian who will be greatly missed by the Canadian Forces family and his community,” said Harper.
He said the attack demonstrated the insurgents’ “utter brutality” and disregard for innocent Afghan lives.
“This barbaric act of aggression in the middle of rush hour reminds us of the many dangers our brave military personnel and the Afghan population are exposed to every day,” said Jean, who is the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces.
Tuesday’s bombing also marked a grim milestone for U.S. forces, bringing the toll of American dead in Afghanistan beyond 1,000 since 2001.
It was the deadliest attack on Kabul this year, and the first major strike since February, when Afghan security forces moved to tighten key entry points to the capital. Afghan and NATO sources said “spotters” likely aided Tuesday’s attacker in honing in on a target.
Several Taliban sources claimed responsibility for the attack, one identifying the bomber as a young resident of Kabul named “Nizamuddin.”
The attack came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was readying for a news conference, his first since last week’s fence-mending journey to Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama and a succession of U.S. officials to iron out differences in advance of a major push to reclaim Kandahar from insurgents.
Karzai called the attack “heartbreaking,” noting the high number of women and children among the civilian dead.
Reading from a prepared statement, Hetherington said Parker “could be incredibly funny -- he had a truly infectious laugh and smile.
“To some, he was simply known as ‘Parker’ because that’s what his wife called him. We all knew him to be remarkably smart and the consummate professional officer.
“Equally important,” Hetherington continued, “he was always standing ready to be a friend. He knew when to tell you the hard truth you needed to hear and when to led a sympathetic ear.”
Hetherington added that, “Although not likely to admit it, Geoff was a very compassionate man. He cared about people. And you saw that. Finally, despite his obvious talent, Geoff was humble and quite often the brunt of his own jokes. His loss will be felt by many.”