The top U.S. general in Afghanistan issued a rare public warning Monday to Afghans celebrating the country's Independence Day that militants planned to attack civilian, military and government targets. Only hours earlier a suicide bomber killed nine Afghans outside a U.S. base.
The warning by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said "credible intelligence" indicated that militants planned to launch attacks at Monday's independence celebrations. A U.S. military statement said an increase in security and public awareness can "save Afghan lives, defeating the enemies' plan to discredit the Afghan government."
"We recommend to all Afghans to be vigilant at large public events and other locations where crowds gather and report suspicious behavior to security forces," the statement said.
Two hours before the warning was issued, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a U.S. base in the eastern province of Khost, killing nine Afghan laborers and wounding 13, according to Khost Gov. Arsallah Jamal. Security forces stopped a second car bomber from detonating his explosives.
While Afghan, U.S. and NATO intelligence officials say they often hear of and disrupt plans by militants, rarely does the U.S. go to such lengths to publicize the threat.
All United Nations staff were ordered to work from home Monday as a security precaution, said spokesman Aleem Siddique.
The U.S. warning came one day after 7,000 police flooded the Afghan capital in advance of Afghanistan's 89th anniversary of independence from Britain. Even the location of the official celebration was kept secret and was to remain closed to the public to try to minimize the risk that insurgents could again disrupt a national commemoration.
"All the time the enemy tries to carry out any kind of activity that it can, but the Afghan security forces are ready, and we have already taken measures to disrupt any enemy activity," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry.
In April, gunmen in a rented hotel room fired on Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in Kabul as he sat in the review stands. Karzai escaped injury, but the attack killed three people, including a lawmaker.
Taliban violence has spiked across Afghanistan in recent days, including an ambush on a NATO convoy on Sunday, attacks on police checkpoints and a roadside bomb targeting a police convoy. More than 90 people were killed over four days - most of them reportedly Taliban insurgents.
Kabul so far has been spared the violence afflicting much of Afghanistan, but there are signs the Taliban and other militant groups have gained a foothold in neighboring provinces. And the capital suffered spectacular bomb attacks this year against an international hotel and the Indian Embassy.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said more than 5,000 extra police were drafted for what he described as the biggest operation of its kind in Kabul since 2001, when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government. The ministry said police would search buildings and cars to "prevent any disruptive actions by the enemy."
Overall, insurgent attacks jumped by 50 percent in the first half of 2008 from the previous year, according to data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a Kabul-based group that advises relief groups on security.
More than 3,400 people - mostly militants - have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.
In other violence reported Monday:
- A bomb blast in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed two police on patrol late Sunday, said Ghafor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
- Several militants were killed in two separate clashes with U.S.-led coalition troops in the eastern provinces of Kapisa and Paktika on Sunday, the coalition said. It did not provide an exact number of militants killed.