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Blast Kills 12 Civilians In West Afghanistan

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed 12 Afghan traders as they drove through Afghanistan's remote west on July 20 in an attack apparently meant for Afghan or foreign troops, witnesses and officials said.

Highly destructive homemade bombs planted in the road are by far the most deadly weapons used by the Taliban and other insurgents, frequently killing civilians as well as the security forces they traditionally target.

"I saw 12 men were killed and four were wounded," Abdul Razzaq Samadi, a local tribal chief who was at the scene of the blast, told Reuters.

"I took four wounded men to the hospital. Their condition was not good," he said.

The blast happened on a dirt road that links two districts in Farah province, where Taliban insurgents usually plant roadside bombs to target convoys of foreign and government troops, Samadi said.

Farah provincial governor Rohul Amin said all 16 victims were local commuters who traveled between the two districts each day to buy and sell goods.

Violence across Afghanistan has hit its highest level since 2001, when the Taliban's austere Islamist government was ousted for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders wanted over the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops have launched major operations in southern Helmand this month, the first major offensives of U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan.

Violence has spiked across the country since those operations began, with military and civilian casualties surging.

In northern Kunduz province, German soldiers shot and killed two civilians, including a child, when their car's driver ignored warnings to stop as it was driven towards the soldiers, a spokesman for German forces in Afghanistan said.

Provincial district chief, Abdul Wahed Omarkhel, said Afghan and German soldiers were conducting operations when the car began speeding towards them. Two civilians were also wounded.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan this month issued a new tactical directive aimed at reducing the number of civilian casualties, often caused by air strikes, a source of great friction between the Afghan government and its Western allies.

About 800 civilians were killed in Afghanistan between January and May, a 24 percent increase from the same period in 2008, according to UN figures released last month.