Blast shakes Kabul as US military chief visits
The Afghan capital was rocked Saturday by an accidental blast just as Washington's military chief promised business as usual despite the sacking of the US commander of foreign forces.
The blast, near the foreign ministry in Kabul's embassy district, happened when an anti-personnel mine in an Afghan army vehicle accidentally detonated, a NATO spokesman said.
The blast shook Kabul after US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, began a visit aimed at reassuring leaders following the sacking of the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
Police on the scene told AFP there were no casualties.
General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defence minister, said the Afghan National Army driver of the truck had been detained for questioning.
Meeting President Hamid Karzai, Mullen said NATO troops would still "spare no efforts avoiding civilian casualties" while continuing to strengthen and cooperate with Afghan forces, a statement from the presidency said.
Mounting foreign troop deaths have fuelled criticism in the international media that the US-led alliance is becoming bogged down in Afghanistan, something Washington denies.
The statement from Karzai's office said the Afghan leader had welcomed the appointment of David Petraeus as the new commander of foreign forces.
"Afghanistan... considers the appointment of this general who is experienced, aware of the Afghan situation and a war veteran, as the right decision," it said.
Mullen, who later went on for security talks in neighbouring Pakistan, had been expected to explain the circumstances leading to McChrystal's firing following an incendiary profile in an American magazine.
Karzai, whose office earlier in the week argued that McChrystal should not lose his job, used the meeting to say that he appreciated the former commander's "fruitful work".
During his one-day visit, Mullen also met the Afghan defence minister, US and NATO officials.
In Pakistan he was due to meet President Asif Ali Zardari, chief of the army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the head of the air force.
NATO on Saturday announced the death of five more alliance soldiers in Afghanistan following four Taliban-style bomb attacks in the south and east of the country.
And Britain's defence ministry said a British soldier died two weeks after being wounded by an explosion in southern Afghanistan.
June has become the deadliest month of the war since it began in late 2001, with 90 foreign troop deaths, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by icasualties.org.
This year 310 foreign soldiers have been killed -- compared with a 2009 total of 520 -- under McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy, which entails pouring in tens of thousands of extra troops to take the fight to the Taliban.
The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban's use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.
The United Nations said this month that IED attacks had risen 95 percent in the first four months of 2010 over the same period last year.
The G8 group of nations, meeting in Toronto, said Saturday Afghan government forces must make concrete progress towards assuming more responsibility for the security of their country "within five years".
NATO said Saturday it had killed a Taliban commander involved in making and deploying IEDs in Logar province, just south of Kabul.
Ghulam Sakhi was disguised in woman's clothes when he was killed late Friday by Afghan and international forces, NATO said.
Afghan and NATO forces also killed several insurgents in an air strike Friday night in the southern province of Zabul, the alliance said, adding that steps were taken to protect civilians beforehand.
McChrystal won early praise for a drop in civilian casualties as he attempted to win popular trust, at the same time working hard to bring Karzai on board.
There are 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number set to peak at 150,000 by August in the hope of forcing an end to the insurgency by ramping up efforts in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland.
Obama said in Washington that Petraeus, well regarded for his role in turning around the Iraq war, would be able to hit the ground running due to his work on Afghanistan as head of Central Command, which oversees both war zones.
© 2010 AFP