Kandahar carnage; Canada sends in the drones

Three bombings in as many days have left 140 dead in Afghanistan’s Canadian-occupied Kandahar province. More than 100 were killed in a suicide attack on a dog-fighting competition on the outskirts of Kandahar city attended by local luminaries Feb. 17. A marketplace blast in Spin Boldak, apparently targeting a Canadian convoy, killed 38 civilians Feb. 18. A car bomb exploded near a police compound in Kandahar city, killing one civilian and wounding four, Feb. 19. (AP, Feb. 20; AP, Feb. 18)

Dog-fighting had been banned by the Taliban, but the militia may have had other reasons to target the competition. Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and the president of Kandahar’s provincial council, said the target of the attack was Abdul Hakim Jan, a local militia who was killed in the attack—and had resisted the Taliban during their rule. The Taliban, however, issued a statement denying responsibility. (BBC, Feb. 18; AP, Feb. 17)

Canada’s Department of National Defence says it will have unmanned surveillance drones in the air above Kandahar by next January, to track insurgents from the sky rather than putting soldiers at risk on the ground. The new $120 million drone program will satisfy one of several conditions the Canadian government has imposed to extend Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan past next February. Other conditions include acquiring transport helicopters and finding a NATO ally willing to send at least 1,000 more troops to Kandahar. The drones will take over from the current crop of “Spewer drones,” purchased in 2003 for $34 million, and will fill the gap until the next phase of unmanned aircraft come on line in 2011-12. Critics charge the Spewers are ill-suited to the Afghan mission because they were built to operate at sea level, undertake missions of only five hours or less, and return to earth imprecisely via parachute. (Toronto Star, Feb. 20)

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