KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan authorities Monday announced the arrest of seven people in last week’s car suicide car bombing that killed six NATO soldiers — including three American colonels and a Canadian colonel.
A total of 18 people were killed in the Tuesday bombing near the destroyed royal palace, the deadliest attack against coalition forces in the Afghan capital in eight months.
The spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, Saeed Ansari, told reporters the seven, including a schoolteacher, were taken into custody separately over the last week and were under the command of the Taliban’s “shadow governor” of Kabul, Daoud Surkha, who the Afghans allege is hiding in Pakistan.
It was unclear what role the seven played in the attack.
“We are saying that they have been trained on the other side of the border, so it is clear that the intelligence service of our neighbouring country has its role in the training and supporting of this terrorist group,” he said in a clear reference to Pakistan.
Taliban fighters still use the lawless border areas of Pakistan as a sanctuary despite Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone attacks.
Ansari said the seven were part of a Taliban cell responsible for numerous other attacks in the capital, including last February’s assault against guesthouses frequented by Indians in which six Indians were killed. Previously Ansari blamed the attack on the Pakistan-based insurgent group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives.
The Tuesday car bombing was followed a day later by a ground assault against the U.S.-run Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, and Saturday’s attack on the giant Kandahar Air Field, the biggest NATO base in southern Afghanistan.
Those attacks appeared part of a Taliban operation announced this month, even as NATO gears up for a major offensive around Kandahar, the largest city in the south and a longtime Taliban stronghold.
Elsewhere, officials said insurgents on motorbikes shot and killed a tribal elder in northern Afghanistan who had resisted Taliban in the region and who planned to attend an upcoming government-organized peace conference.
Tribal elder Horal Mohammad Zabet was watching over his flock of grazing sheep with his son Saturday when about 15 gunmen on motorbikes drove up and surrounded Zabet.
“They started shooting from two directions at my father. He took out his gun and fired back at them, but after 20 minutes of shooting he was dead,” said the son, Abdul Qayum Halimi. He tried to call for help but it was about 6 p.m. — the time Taliban shut off phone service in the area — so he couldn’t get through to anyone.
Zabet, a former mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets, was the leader of about 100,000 families in Dawlat Abad district of Faryab province.
Recently, Zabet received an invitation to attend the upcoming peace conference in the capital and planned to attend, Halimi said. The meeting, organized by Karzai, aims to bring together tribal elders and community leaders to discuss ways to end the war.
Conference spokesman Gul Agha Ahmedi said Monday that the meeting, known as a “peace jirga,” would now be held on June 2 to allow the nominations for an upcoming parliamentary election to finish and to give delegates from remote districts more time to arrive.
No Taliban leaders are expected to attend but some of the delegates may include people sympathetic to the insurgents.
President Hamid Karzai plans to unfold his program for peace overtures to the Taliban during the meeting, but the insurgent group has said it will not consider reconciling with the government as long international forces are in the country.
The jirga, or traditional meeting of elders, has also run into snags among its supporters. Originally scheduled for early May, it has been postponed twice. It was first pushed back after Karzai’s visit earlier this month to Washington, where he discussed his peace plans with Obama and other top U.S. officials.
On Monday, the secretary of parliament, Mohammad Saleh Suljoqi, said the threat to boycott the peace jirga was made because parliament was angry that Karzai has not submitted nominees for 11 of 25 Cabinet posts. Parliament rejected 11 nominees in January but they have served ever since in an acting capacity, despite a legal requirement for the legislature to confirm appointees.
Suljoqi said the full parliament would discuss the issue Tuesday. Participation by parliament members at the jirga is not required, but a boycott could call into question the degree of support for any decisions taken at the conference.
The Obama administration supports economic and other incentives to individual insurgents willing to give up the struggle and abandon al-Qaida. But Washington is skeptical of peace talks with the Taliban leadership, hoping to first weaken the militants on the battlefield.
In the west, meanwhile, five Afghan civilians were killed when their minivan hit a roadside bomb in Farah province Monday, the Interior Ministry said. Eight people were also wounded, many in serious condition.