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Diverse Afghan groups behind unrest

A rocket attack that killed two US soldiers Wednesday is the lastest in a spate of attacks ahead of a September vote.

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Afghan officials are concerned that a spate of recent attacks shows renewed vigor from Islamic militants in the region, as well as a convergence of disparate groups interested in destabilizing the country in the run-up to parliamentary elections.

Though blame is often laid at the feet of Al Qaeda and the Taliban for most of the unrest here, security officials say that drug profiteers, warlords reluctant to disarm, rival politicians, and ordinary Afghans with personal vendettas are behind many violent incidents.

While there are no indications that these disparate groups have joined forces with insurgents, many share a common desire to disrupt September's vote, say officials. A freely elected parliament would bolster the US-backed government in Kabul, and could strengthen the rule of law - a direct threat to warlords and drug traders who rule by gun.

"Most people don't realize how many layers of terrorists and criminals the government of Afghanistan is trying to fight," says Latfullah Mashal, the Ministry of Interior spokesman. "What goes out in the press is mostly about Al qaeda and the Taliban, but there is much more."

Mr. Mashal says last month's kidnapping of CARE worker Clementina Cantoni was the work of a local criminal gang whose leader is suspected of killing a wealthy businessman last year. The government said Thursday that Afghan negotiators are in regular contact with the kidnappers and are hopeful Ms. Cantoni would soon be released.

Investigations concluded that criminal gangs were also to blame for the kidnapping of three United Nations workers last November. The three were held hostage for about a month.

"These gangs kidnap internationals purely for economic reasons, they want ransom," says Nick Downie, who heads an independent body that advises aid organizations on security in Afghanistan. "Their motive isn't to kill, but they think internationals equal big money."

Kidnappings have been a tactics to extort money from reconstruction projects. According to security experts, dozens of Turkish and Chinese road workers and engineers have been kidnapped or killed because their employers have refused to pay bribes to local commanders. However, immediate news reports of such events often suggest these to be acts of terror by rebels.

To be sure, insurgents linked to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and renegade warlord Gulbudin Hekmatyar are to blame for much violence. Mashal estimates that 70 percent of the incidents are planned and carried out by these three rebel groups.

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