KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb struck a motorcycle-drawn cart carrying women and children between two villages Tuesday in western Afghanistan, killing all 17 people on board, a grim reminder of the dangers facing Afghan civilians ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of foreign combat troops.
International troops already have pulled back into a largely advisory and training role as they try to prepare Afghan soldiers and police to take over their own security. That effort has been marred by a series of attacks by Afghan troops or insurgents disguised in their uniforms.
In the latest so-called insider attack, an Afghan soldier opened fire on Slovakian troops in the southern city of Kandahar, killing one and wounding six others.
The roadside bomb that struck the cart was aimed at stopping a joint patrol of Afghan soldiers and police that was pursuing a group of Taliban militants in the western province of Herat, local police Lt. Sher Agha said. But the bomb exploded next to the cart carrying the villagers, killing 12 women, four children and a man, Agha said.
Another roadside bomb exploded near a taxi in the southern province of Helmand, killing three civilians and wounding two, provincial government spokesman Ummar Zawaq said.
About 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the first half of the year, according to the U.N. That marked a 24 percent increase in casualties compared to the same period last year.
In the south, an Afghan soldier opened fire on Slovakian NATO troops guarding Kandahar Air Field, base commander Gen. Abdul Raziq Sherzai said.
In Slovakia, Defense Minister Martin Glvac confirmed one soldier was killed and six others wounded, including two seriously, in what he condemned as "a terrorist attack."
Glvac said the soldier opened fire from a guard tower.
Kandahar government spokesman Javid Faisal said the Afghan soldier had been taken into custody and questioned, and that the preliminary investigation has so far indicated the shooting may have been an accident.
If the shooting is confirmed as an insider attack, the Slovakian soldier would be the ninth NATO service member killed by Afghan forces this year, according to an Associated Press count. The NATO coalition has said it suffered 29 fatalities in 2011 to insider attacks, and 62 in 2012.
The attacks have shaken the trust between the international forces and their Afghan forces at a time it is needed most as the withdrawal deadline approaches.
President Hamid Karzai issued a plea to the Taliban to respect the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins Wednesday in Afghanistan. He called on the movement to "take the way of peace, compassion and kindness and stop killing people."
But the Taliban quickly rejected Karzai's plea, saying that for them, jihad, or holy war, is an even greater obligation during Ramadan.
"We will continue with our attacks on the infidels and their slaves," Taliban spokesman Qari Yasouf Ahmadi said in a written statement.
Hopes for peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government were raised last month after the Islamic militant movement opened an office in the Gulf state of Qatar and agreed to start initial talks with the U.S.
But optimism quickly faded after the Taliban's use of the flag and name "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" — which it had used when it ruled Afghanistan — prompted outrage from Karzai and others in Afghanistan, who said the office was more akin to an embassy than a bureau for peace talks.
The Taliban were forced to remove the offending flag and name, but since doing so have effectively shuttered the office, Taliban officials said Tuesday.
Taliban officials in Qatar are not known to have yet contacted either U.S. or Afghan negotiators, and now that the office has been abandoned — at least temporarily — it raises questions of whether they ever will.
In other violence, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a prominent tribal leader who also was a former government official in the central province of Uruzgan as he walked through the provincial capital, government spokesman Abdullah Himat said.
A roadside bomb also killed two police and wounded four others in the province late on Monday, police spokesman Fareed Ayal said.
Khan reported from Kandahar. Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this story.