Taliban suicide bombs not strategic threat - NATO

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KABUL, Oct 11 (Reuters) The NATO-led force in Afghanistan today rejected Taliban rebel claims that suicide bombs were an effective weapon to drive out foreign troops, saying the effects on the military were strategically insignificant.

The number of Taliban suicide attacks in Afghanistan -- more than 100 so far this year -- is set to top last year's record of 123, the United Nations says, and most victims are civilians.

The Taliban have increased the number of suicide attacks after suffering heavy casualties in conventional clashes with foreign forces and the Afghan army, security analysts say.

But a top Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan urged a group of around 200 followers to carry out more suicide attacks, saying in a video obtained by Reuters last week they were an effective weapon that damaged foreign and Afghan forces.

''The reality is quite the opposite,'' said Major Charles Anthony, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), referring to the video footage.

''So far this year more than 100 suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Afghanistan, killing and injuring hundreds of Afghan civilians,'' Anthony told a news conference. ''These deaths and injuries are most regrettable, but the complete responsibility rests with Taliban extremists.

''The number of ISAF and coalition soldiers who have been killed by suicide bombers this year is a total of nine. I am not implying that these losses are trivial ... but from a strategic standpoint it is not militarily significant,'' he said.

The United Nations said last month that 183 Afghans were killed by suicide bombers during the first half of 2007 and 121 of them were civilians. Afghan forces, particularly the police, have borne the brunt of the other casualties.

But more people have been killed since those figures were released. Three suicide bombs hit the capital, Kabul, in less than eight days, killing 28 Afghan soldiers, five Afghan police, one U.S.

soldier and 14 Afghan civilians.

While Western forces, alongside the Afghan army, have claimed victories against Taliban rebels in the south, many remote areas and some towns remain under rebel control and insurgent attacks have also spread north to regions previously considered safe.

Frustration with the government over the slow pace of development, official corruption and the lack of law and order have all played into rebel hands.

REUTERS AE PM1544

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