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Afghan violence snares civilians

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"The attacks overall have been steady, but there are more attacks on Afghan civilians than on coalition forces," says Lt. Col. Douglas Lefforge, spokesman for the US military at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. "That's generally how cowards do their business. They attack the weak. They hide behind a cause, Islam, but everything they do is against their own belief systems in Islam."

Experts say there is no clear pattern of increasing attacks, but the death tolls have certainly grown, especially in the last week - the bloodiest since Operation Anaconda in March 2002. But unlike previous battles, those of the last two weeks have not involved the 12,500-strong US-led coalition.

Afghan government sources suggest that the Taliban has changed its tactics because its attacks on US forces have proved ineffective. Rocket attacks against the US military base in Asadabad this week are typical. Three rockets were fired on Monday, according to Colonel Lefforge, but the closest rocket fell 500 meters from the base.

More effective was Sunday's attack on a police station in the Barmal district of Paktika Province, south of Kabul. Anywhere from 200 to 400 Taliban fighters or sympathizers overran police headquarters, leaving 22 dead on both sides.

Another large group of suspected Taliban fighters attacked the Afghan police station at Turwa, a border village. There, attackers killed three Afghan police officers, and captured four more, according to local Afghan officials.

Afghan officials say the attacks are evidence that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have regrouped, and that they receive substantial support from groups in Pakistan. Pakistani officials, for their part, contend that while there may be a few cross-border incursions, the bulk of the violence is Afghan on Afghan.

Here in Logar province, state officials say that the region overall is peaceful. Gov. Abdul Malik Hamwar, for instance, says, "the Taliban have not found a foothold in Logar, I don't think so."

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