Dozens of civilians, NATO coalition troops and Afghan security forces were killed and wounded Wednesday when a suicide attacker blew himself up in a bazaar, according to the top commander of international troops in Afghanistan, who alleged that the Taliban's leader had "lost all control" of his footsoldiers.
U.S. Gen. John Allen condemned the attack in Kajaki district of Helmand province and said it was evidence that the insurgents had "declared outright war" on the Afghan people. While the Taliban work to intimidate civilians and kill anyone aligned with the Afghan government, the U.S.-led coalition emphasizes that civilians deaths should weaken the Taliban's appeal.
Daud Ahmadi, a provincial spokesman, said a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 12 Afghans, including two policeman, and wounded at least 23 other people.
A statement released late Wednesday by NATO headquarters in Kabul said the explosion killed and injured dozens of Afghan civilians, Afghan national security forces and coalition troops. The statement did not disclose further details about how many foreign troops had been killed or wounded.
"With today's horrendous attack at the Kajaki Sofla Bazaar, insurgents have once again destroyed the lives of dozens of innocent Afghan civilians," Allen said in the statement. "These attacks against the people of Afghanistan have no effect on the progress we are together making here with our Afghan partners and will only further isolate the Taliban from the process of peace negotiation."
Taliban leader Mohammad Mullah Omar "has lost all control over Taliban insurgents, otherwise he would immediately denounce these attacks and order his forces to stop attacking innocent Afghan civilians," Allen said.
More than a year ago, Omar, the Taliban's one-eyed, reclusive leader, did urge his fighters to try to avoid killing innocent civilians.
"Pay attention to the life and property of civilians so that ... your jihad activities will not become a cause for destruction of property and loss of life of people," Omar said in a message emailed to the media in November 2010.
Suicide bombings and roadside bombs, however, have continued to kill ordinary citizens along with NATO and Afghan forces. Taliban insurgents have assassinated hundreds of Afghan government officials and supporters in recent years, seeking to sap public confidence in President Hamid Karzai's administration.
Farther south in Helmand province, an Afghan intelligence official in Nad Ali district and two of this bodyguards were killed Wednesday in an explosion, Ahmadi said. A remote-controlled bomb was detonated as the intelligence official, Wali Mohammad Khan, walked out of his house.
He was the third local government official to be assassinated this week in southern Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency.
On Tuesday in neighboring Kandahar province, a member of the Dand district council was assassinated while praying in a mosque in Kandahar city, and a member of the district council in Panjwayi was killed by gunmen on a motorbike.
Separately, NATO is investigating reports that five civilians, including one woman and two children, were accidentally killed during a night raid earlier this week in northeastern Afghanistan.
Sayed Fazelullah Wahidi, governor of Kunar province, said coalition helicopters fired into a compound Monday night in Chawkay district, killing two militants and the five civilians.
Coalition troops and Afghan special forces have been carrying out regular nighttime kill-and-capture raids against suspected insurgents across Afghanistan. But the operations and allegations of civilian deaths have provoked anger over foreign meddling in Afghanistan.
Karzai has demanded an end to the raids, saying that Afghan citizens cannot feel secure if they think armed soldiers might burst into their houses in the middle of the night.
Meanwhile, Afghan security forces said they had killed nine armed insurgents and captured 23 suspects in a series of raids in the past 24 hours.
An Interior Ministry statement issued Wednesday morning said the operations in eight different provinces also uncovered caches of weapons, ammunition and explosives.
The Afghan Defense Ministry says a soldier was killed and four were wounded in clashes with insurgents on Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.