As thousands of American troops pour into southern Afghanistan, insurgents have launched a vicious offensive against the Afghans supporting the surge. In the last day a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a wedding hosted by an anti-Taliban tribal leader, and insurgents publicly hanged someone who they labeled a spy for local troops.
The Afghan accused of spying was a 7-year-old boy.
He was hanged from a tree in front of a crowd in Helmand's Sangin district, where more than a thousand British troops are based. He was the son and grandson of prominent tribal leaders, one of whom had recently spoken out against the Taliban, according to local journalists.
"A 7-year-old boy cannot be a spy," President Hamid Karzai said in a press conference in Kabul. "A 7-year-old boy cannot be anything but a 7-year-old boy, and therefore hanging or shooting to kill a 7-year-old boy ... is a crime against humanity."
The hanging occurred hours before a man walked into the main section of a wedding just north of Kandahar City and pulled the trigger on a suicide vest, killing more than 40 and injuring more than 70, including the groom.
The groom's family had opposed the Taliban, and his uncle, the local tribal leader, had successfully organized a militia against insurgents, according to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the provincial council and the president's brother.
Taken together, the grisly incidents will serve as a warning that American soldiers and Marines have not yet guaranteed security for those Afghans willing to help them. And that will make the surge into southern Afghanistan more difficult. American commanders admit they need local help in order to defeat an insurgency deeply embedded into the ethnic and tribal population of Helmand and Kandahar.
Today the top American commander in Afghanistan admitted the military had not yet won over skeptical local leaders in Kandahar, and that it was taking longer than he anticipated to do so ahead of a summer surge.
Taliban Denies Bloody Attack on Wedding
"I think it will take a number of months for this to play out. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think it's more important that we get it right than we get it fast," Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO conference.
The wedding attack occurred in Arghandab district, which American officials have held up as an example of progress. In the last year more than 50 soldiers died among its lush pomegranate fields, and the district is approximately 60 percent controlled by Western troops and the Afghan government, according to American military officials. Early last year, it was an insurgent safehaven.
The village where the wedding took place, Nagan, is on the border of Arghandab and Zhari, a much less secure district where many of Arghandab's leaders have fled. Nagan had been safe for years because of local elders had successfully rallied villagers to oppose Taliban presence, according to Wali Karzai.
The bomber walked into the wedding ceremony at approximately 9 p.m. His detonation was so powerful, body parts ended up in trees outside the compound.
"Some people were waiting for food, others were dancing inside a big tent, when I heard a deafening blast," a survivor named Aminullah told Reuters. "The dust went up in the sky and I saw dead bodies everywhere. Women and children were screaming. I thought it was end of the world."
The Taliban denied responsibility, and some villagers told the Associated Press they saw helicopters above the wedding and blamed Western troops for firing into the wedding.
But NATO said none of its troops were involved, and the provincial governor held a press conference where he blamed insurgents and said ball bearings had been found in victims' bodies -- a sign that a suicide bomb had been used.
"On one side they target people who are in favor of the government. Then at the same time, they don't want people to know their real face," Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said, referring to the Taliban's denial.
Taliban's Shocking Attacks Warn Afghan to Not Cooperate With U.S.
The attacks have not been limited to Afghans. The first 10 days of June have been one of the deadliest stretches of the war for American troops. At least 19 have died, and McChrystal today acknowledged that the war would get more violent as troops deployed to areas where NATO has not had a significant presence.
"I think it's likely that our casualties and violence will continue to rise particularly through the summer months. They could rise well into the fall." McChrystal told ABC News in Brussels. "We are pressuring the enemy and they are reacting to that. As we predicted, violence would go up the more places we were, the more forces we used to take the momentum away from the enemy."
But a day like yesterday will help reinforce local leaders' doubts about the Americans' ability to protect them. Yesterday afternoon, insurgents dragged a member of the Kandahar provincial council out of his house and killed him, the Associated Press reported.