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An Afghan suicide bomber detonated his car outside the NATO base and airport in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad today. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge against the US soldiers who burned Qurans last week.
His attack caps a deadly week in Afghanistan that has prompted NATO and others to recall hundreds of advisers from Afghan ministries who have been preparing the Afghan government and security forces to take on more responsibility as the drawdown of international forces begins, the Associated Press reports. Reuters cites a US Embassy warning of a "heightened" threat to US citizens in Afghanistan.
In today’s attack, the assailant drove his car into the gates of the airport, triggering a blast and killing nine Afghans.
US President Obama apologized for the Quran burnings, which took place at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, and which the US has said were inadvertent. His Afghan counterpart, President Hamid Karzai, called for the punishment of the soldiers who burned the holy books, but also urged Afghans to refrain from violence – a request that has not been heeded.
The Quran burnings spurred several days of deadly protests in Kabul and elsewhere in the country that killed dozens, including four international troops at the hands of Afghan counterparts, according to the AP. Two of them were US military advisers who were shot and killed at the Interior Ministry.
Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said yesterday that the violence does not change American plans in the country and will not accelerate the US troops withdrawal process, Reuters reports. The US is currently scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.
Among European members of the coalition in particular, where the war is “deeply unpopular,” pressure is building for an earlier withdrawal, according to Reuters. NATO, Britain, and Germany withdrew their advisers from Afghan government ministries after the killing of the two advisers last week.
The killings within the Interior Ministry are particularly troubling because as international forces shift from a combat role to an advisory one, they are increasingly working within the Afghan government.
The Monitor’s Dan Murphy wrote two days ago that the reaction to the Quran burnings was “sadly predictable.”
The public fury unleashed by events is also a reminder that Afghans are chafing at the extended military occupation of the country. And now [Gen. John Allen, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan] has been forced to concede with his orders today that agents of the Afghan government, NATO's local ally in its war against the Taliban, can't be trusted.
The simple fact is that after 10 years of war, hearts and minds have not been won. Legions of civilian and military advisers from Europe and the US, seeking to inculcate an outside political culture in the hearts of Afghans, have largely failed. The tinder of anger and humiliation is thick on the ground. And this is not just about Taliban supporters.
And, he adds, this crisis comes at a time of record low US public support for the war in Afghanistan.
The US president now has European allies tired of the war and grappling with economic crisis at home. With the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, the US public's appetite for the Afghan war has also diminished. A CNN poll in October found domestic support for the war at its lowest point since it started in 2001, down to 34 percent. Over 1,900 US soldiers have now been killed in the Afghan war.
It bears repeating: The two latest US casualties were in the heart of the Afghan Interior ministry, killed by an Afghan whose gun and ammunition were paid for by the US taxpayer.
The Taliban also claims that a cook on an eastern Afghanistan base poisoned the food of coalition troops, killing five. The coalition forces’ eastern regional command said that while trace amounts of bleach were found in food in the dining area, prompting a shutdown of the dining area for an investigation, there were no deaths or injuries, the Guardian reports.