Taliban suicide bombers attack two Afghan cities

The attacks are part of a spike in violence as US troops pour into the country ahead of elections next month.

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At least 13 suspected Taliban militants and Afghan security forces were killed Tuesday in separate attacks in Gardez and Jalalabad, two eastern Afghan cities.

The attacks were launched on government buildings and came in th run-up to the presidential election in August. Violence has spiked in Afghanistan as the US has poured more troops into the country, launching a new offensive in the Taliban stronghold of southern Helmand Province as part of a new strategy to defeat the insurgency. (For a map of Afghanistan, click here.)

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The attacks also come a day after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a temporary increase in the size of the Army to meet the demands of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Al Jazeera, suicide bombers, some wearing women’s burqas, attacked the governor’s house, police headquarters, and intelligence headquarters in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia, on Tuesday. US and NATO forces were dispatched to quell gunbattles, Al Jazeera reported.

In a separate attack in Jalalabad, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, two suicide bombers on a motorcycle and one police officer died during a gunbattle, reports the Associated Press. According to the BBC, the militants killed in Jalalabad were trying to gain access to the airport, which is a base for Afghan and foreign troops.

Mr. Gates announced Monday that the Department of Defense was temporarily increasing the size of the US Army by 22,000 soldiers to reduce the strain on troops during the transition from military operations in Iraq to Afghanistan, reports The Christian Science Monitor. There are currently 58,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

As the US ramps down the mission in Iraq by 2011 and revs it up in Afghanistan, the Pentagon simply needs even more people. Over the next year, defense officials expect the number of soldiers deployed overseas to increase during the transition.
“This is an important and necessary step to ensure that we continue to properly support the needs of commanders in the field, while providing relief for our current force and their families,” Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon briefing Monday.

According to the Associated Press, US commanders were already anticipating a violent summer after President Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to be stationed in Afghanistan in March this year.

Writing in The Guardian, Jason Burke argues that the growing frequency of Taliban attacks cannot be blamed on troop increases. He instead emphasizes that the militants are better organized and prepared for the “traditional fighting season” of July and August.

“The Taliban are much, much more stood up. They are much tighter, much more professional, much more together,” one intelligence officer in Kabul told the Guardian earlier this year.
A lot has been made of the Taliban’s increasing use of “asymmetric tactics”, such as booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attacks.... Soldiers fighting the insurgents say they now show vastly improved ability to co-ordinate fire.... Nato officers say the Taliban’s command has also been improved to co-ordinate fighting with foot soldiers and to allow rapid engagement or disengagement....
Through the winter, Nato intelligence officers say, the insurgents worked at stiffening internal discipline, weeding out those who were felt to be insufficiently attached, ideologically speaking, to the movement.

Tuesday’s attacks against Afghan government buildings also come in the wake of President Hamid Karzai’s warning that military presence alone cannot improve security, reports the The Times of London.
“I don’t think the increase in troops will address the problem,” Karzai said. “We need to concentrate on finding other avenues of defeating terrorism and seeking peace.

“We must engage in negotiations, bring back those Taliban who are willing to return, who have been driven out by fear and coercion and the mistakes we’ve all made.”

Also:

Indian judge seals testimony from confessed Mumbai attacker Associated Press
Indonesian police investigate school in Jakarta attacks Agence France-Presse
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