Taliban hang 7-year-old Afghan boy for ‘spying’
June is proving a deadly month in Afghanistan - for civilians and Nato troops
The news that Taliban fighters have hanged a seven-year-old boy in Helmand province, after accusing him of passing information to foreign soldiers, is the most graphic in a catalogue of horrors emanating from Afghanistan this month.
The casualties inflicted on Afghan civilians and Nato troops have led to a flurry of diplomatic activity, culminating in David Cameron's unannounced visit to Kabul this morning, where he told President Hamid Karzai that Afghanistan was his "number one priority".
The hanging took place on Tuesday in the Sangin district of Helmand, according to a statement from the provincial governor's office. The boy, who has not yet been named, was apparently abducted by Taliban fighters from the village of Heratyan and then hanged in another village, Salarwi.
The boy's murder - which the Taliban has denied - was followed yesterday by the killing of 39 people in a suicide bomb attack on a wedding party in the neighbouring province of Kandahar.
No group has yet taken responsibility for the attack, but Kandahar is a Taliban stronghold and is set to be the scene of a major Nato-led operation this summer. The "massive" bomb blast also injured more than 70 people, including the groom.
Far north in Sar-e-Pul province, there are fears - but, again, no proof - that the Taliban, who are opposed to female education, have launched a new offensive to scare girls from attending school. Twenty schoolgirls have been taken to hospital after falling ill - and it is suspected that they were poisoned. Several group poisonings have been reported in girls' schools this year.
For the military, June has also proved to be a deadly month. A total of 29 Nato troops have been killed since June 1, ten of them on Monday making it the deadliest day for the allied forces in seven months.
Yesterday a soldier from the 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment died in an explosion in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand - the fifth British death in Afghanistan this week. One of them was Lance Bombardier Mark Chandler, 32, of the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, who was killed in a gun battle in the Nad Ali on Tuesday.
Yesterday, four Americans died when their Nato helicopter was brought down by Taliban fire in Sangin.
Over the border in Pakistan, seven people died when insurgents attacked a convoy of 30 trucks carrying military equipment, such as Humvees, for use by Nato troops in Afghanistan. The trucks were set on fire on the main road from Islamabad to the Afghan border.
Against this backdrop of violence, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief said on Wednesday that President Hamid Karzai was pursuing a dangerous strategy in seeking peace with the Taliban because the insurgents are giving nothing in return.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Amrullah Saleh said the Taliban's response to Karzai's conciliatory approach has been "violence, destruction and intimidation." He added: "I am in favour of peace but I am against bowing to the Taliban."
Saleh, who was head of the National Directorate of Security, stood down on Sunday along with Interior Minister Hanif Atmar after Karzai said he held them responsible for failing to prevent a militant attack on last week's jirga - a meeting of lawmakers and tribal chiefs - in Kabul.
In London yesterday, the US defence secretary Robert Gates admitted that public opinion in Britain and America would no longer tolerate the loss of troops in Afghanistan unless there were signs of a strategic breakthrough by the end of the year.
"The public expects to see us moving in the right direction," he said. "One thing none of the public will tolerate is the perception of a stalemate where we are losing young men."
Also in London yesterday was Gen David Petraeus, commander of US operations in the Middle East. Piling pressure on Britain's new coalition government to stay the course in Afghanistan, he said the 10,000 British troops in the country were crucial to the Nato effort and that the UK-US alliance was at the core of efforts to fight extremism in the region.
"UK forces are, of course, in the thick of the fight in some of the toughest places in Afghanistan," said Petraeus, "while UK officers are serving in integral leadership roles throughout Isaf and its subordinate commands."
His comments came a day after the new defence secretary, Liam Fox, said British troops would stay until Afghanistan was "stable enough" to ensure internal and foreign security. But Fox said it was "highly unlikely" that Britain would move its Helmand force into Kandahar when Canada pulls out its contingent there next year.