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Militant Attacks Kill Scores in Afghanistan and Pakistan

October 28, 2009 at 6:02 PM EDT
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Taliban militants stormed a U.N. guest house Wednesday in Kabul, leaving 12 people dead, including 5 U.N. staffers, and one American. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a car bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed more than 100 people. Gwen Ifill reports.

JIM LEHRER: Militants struck today in major cities across Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the Afghan capital, an assault on a U.N. guesthouse killed 11 people. And a car bombing in Pakistan killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 200, as U.S. Secretary of State Clinton arrived in the country.

Gwen Ifill begins our lead story coverage.

GWEN IFILL: The attack on U.N. workers in Afghanistan began near dawn in Kabul. Police finally got the upper hand two hours later. Taliban fighters in police uniforms and suicide vests stormed the Bakhtar guesthouse.

The fighting touched off a fire that sent smoke billowing high over the city and forced people to jump from roof to roof to escape.

MOHAMMAD OSMAN, eyewitness (through translator): The gunfire hit the door, and then the attackers got inside the guesthouse. The guards were on the roof. Foreign guests inside were crying out for help, but we could not help them. There was a lot of shooting. Some were killed and injured.

GWEN IFILL: The dead included five U.N. staffers, one an American. At least 25 U.N. workers were staying at the guesthouse, preparing for Afghanistan’s presidential runoff election on November 7.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the attack a shocking and senseless act, but he said the U.N. will not be deterred.

BAN KI-MOON, secretary-general, United Nations: The United Nations is committed to doing all it can to support the Afghan people as they once again cast their ballots and shape the destiny of their country.

GWEN IFILL: The Taliban warned, the strike at the U.N. was just the start. Militants also fired rockets today at the Afghan presidential palace and at Kabul’s main luxury hotel. There were no casualties reported.

But the violence echoed all the way to Washington, where President Obama is considering whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: I don’t doubt that there are going to be members of the Taliban or violent extremists that seek to disrupt, as I have said, the will of the Afghan people. That’s not going to be successful. The Afghan people are going to decide who their next government will be run by. And we’re confident of that.

GWEN IFILL: Gibbs would not answer questions about a “New York Times” report that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the Afghan president, has been working with the CIA. The story said he received regular payments from the agency for much of the past eight years, partly to recruit a paramilitary force.

Ahmed Karzai is also believed to be heavily involved in the Afghan drug trade. He dismissed the Times report as absolutely ridiculous.

Across the border, in Pakistan today, the day’s bloodshed left hundreds dead and wounded in Peshawar, mostly women and children. A car loaded with 300 pounds of explosives detonated in the middle of a busy market, collapsing buildings and setting the city’s old quarter ablaze.

Violence erupts as Clinton arrives

ADNAN GUL, eyewitness (through translator): Ten minutes before, I was inside my shop, and then the blast went off. Everybody ran towards the scene to see it closely. And we saw everything destroyed there.

GWEN IFILL: Firefighters struggled to douse flames, and onlookers struggled to pull survivors from the rubble. It was the deadliest in a string of bombings and assassinations in recent weeks.

It came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived three hours away in the capital, Islamabad. She said the fight is not Pakistan's alone.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: These extremists are committed to destroying that which is dear to us, as much as they are committed to destroying that which is dear to you and to all people.

So, this is our struggle as well. And we commend the Pakistani military for their courageous fight. And we commit to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani people in your fight for peace and security. We will give you the help that you need in order to achieve your goal.

GWEN IFILL: Pakistan's foreign minister said it was a heinous attack, but, he insisted, we will not buckle.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, foreign minister, Pakistan: You think, by attacking innocent people and lives, you will -- you will shake our determination? No, sir, you will not. We will be more determined to fight you and defeat you, for our own reasons, because we have a vision for Pakistan. And that vision does not fall in line with what you stand for.

GWEN IFILL: Peshawar is just miles from the mountainous border region with Afghanistan, where Pakistan has sent 30,000 troops to flush out Taliban and al-Qaida militants. Pakistani officials said today's bombing came in retaliation for that ongoing campaign.