Two separate attacks kill two U.S. soldiers, three children and policeman; Vote count resumes with Karzai leading

Saturday, October 16th 2004, 9:27 am
By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A bomb killed two American soldiers and wounded three others in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Saturday, while a separate attack in an eastern Afghan province killed at least three children and a policeman on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The reports of violence came as hundreds of election workers across the country resumed counting votes from last week's historic presidential poll. Early results from about 100,000 votes tallied so far _ just more than 1 percent of the total ballots cast _ show U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai with a commanding lead.

The soldiers were killed Thursday by an improvised explosive device _ or homemade bomb _ in Uruzgan province, northwest of Deh Rawood, where an American military base is located, said Maj. Mark McCann, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul.

A military statement identified the dead soldiers as Sgt. Brian S. Hobbs, 28, of Mesa, Ariz., and Spc. Kyle Ka Eo Fernandez, 26, of Waipahu, Hawaii. They both served with the 25th Infantry Division.

The three wounded men were evacuated to Germany for treatment, and one was in critical condition, the military said.

About 18,000 U.S. soldiers make up the vast majority of the coalition forces hunting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in southern and eastern Afghanistan. As of Oct. 15, at least 104 U.S. military personnel have died in and around Afghanistan since late 2001, the U.S. Defense Department said. At least 55 of those soldiers were killed in action.

Karzai strongly condemned a truck assault Friday in the Asmar area of Kunar province, about 120 miles east of Kabul, that killed the children and a policeman. He said it was an atrocity committed by ``enemies of Islam.''

His office said in a statement that unidentified attackers set a truck on fire to draw a crowd and then detonated a remote-controlled bomb, killing at least three children and a policeman.

``The terrorists that perpetrated this attack showed once more their barbarous, inhuman and un-Islamic face by the killing of innocent civilians, especially children,'' Karzai said in the statement.

``Clearly, only the enemies of Islam could commit such an atrocity on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.''

Afghanistan had a public holiday Friday for the start of Ramadan, when Muslims observe a dawn-to-dusk fast.

However, Kunar Gov. Syed Fazel Akbar said five people died, including four civilians. He said the coalition had hired the truck to carry supplies to a military base when it was stopped by ``enemy'' fighters and burned 20 miles north of Asadabad, the provincial capital.

The driver fled and reported the incident to authorities, he said. When police arrived at the scene two hours later, a mine exploded near their vehicle, killing an officer and four bystanders who gathered around the truck wreckage.

The Asmar district police chief was also wounded in the blast, he said.

Akbar had no details about the four dead civilians, including their ages, and what supplies the truck was carrying.

The attacks came a week after millions of Afghans voted in the country's first direct presidential election, which were largely peaceful despite a threat of attacks by Taliban-led rebels.

Nearly 1,000 people, many of them insurgents, died in political violence this year before the Oct. 9 poll.

Vote counting resumed Saturday after being suspended for a day because of Ramadan. Just more than 1 percent of the vote has been counted so far, and it showed Karzai leading with 75 percent of the vote.

The last of the ballot boxes _ which have been transported from far-flung areas by plane, helicopter, truck and even donkey _ were expected to reach counting centers by Sunday, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

Although the winner should be clear in about a week, final results from Afghans' first opportunity to directly pick their leader are expected by Oct. 31.

In another incident Friday, the Afghan national army arrested six suspected Taliban, including a commander, in eastern Paktia province and seized AK-47 assault rifles, said Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zaher Mohammed Azimi.