Afghan bomb kills five wedding guests. Taliban breaking promise?

A new code of conduct had urged fighters to avoid civilian deaths.

Last week we reported that surging civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the lion's share at the hands of the Taliban, had their leader Mullah Omar so worried that he released a new code of conduct for the insurgency. Fighters were reminded to avoid killing civilians and to refrain from disfiguring their enemies.

Somebody didn't get the memo.

On Wednesday, a group of Afghan men, women, and children riding on a tractor to a wedding were killed by a roadside bomb near Garmsar town in Helmand province (here's a map of Afghanistan's provinces and one showing the country in relation to its neighbors). Initial reports put the death toll at 21, but officials now say five people were killed and five wounded. (Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the new information.)

Our story last week quoted some skeptics as saying the code was mostly PR, and predicting more attacks on civilians ahead of national elections on Aug. 20. They appear to have been right.

Civilian casualties up 24 percent

The UN reported last week that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose 24 percent in the first half of the year, with 595 civilians killed by the Taliban and their allies against 309 killed by American and coalition forces. The United States has also promised to limit civilian casualties – not an easy task. On Wednesday, Afghan police said a US helicopter killed five Afghan farmers loading produce in southern Kandahar Province. The US military alleged the men were insurgents.

The Associated Press reports the Taliban have stepped up the efforts around Garmser to counteract the presence of US marines.

Some 4,000 Marines moved into the Garmser area last month to secure roads and population centers ahead of the presidential vote. The insurgents have pledged to disrupt the election and dramatically increased their use of roadside bombs against foreign and Afghan forces across southern Afghanistan, the traditional territory of the largely ethnic Pashtun Taliban.

Roadside bombs more common

The Monitor's Ben Arnoldy reported last week that the Taliban are increasingly using improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, on the roads as they extend far beyond their bases along the Pakistani border.

That expansion – as well as more effective use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – shows a growing sophistication on the part of the insurgency, and has raised the stakes ahead of the upcoming presidential election. "Everything has gotten much more sophisticated. These are very well trained guerrillas now. These are not rag-tag village peasants any more," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban."
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