KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 17 people — including as many as 13 Americans — were killed Saturday when a Taliban suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into an armored NATO military bus on a busy road in the Afghan capital.
The International Security Assistance Force said that five of its soldiers and eight civilian contractors working for the U.S.-led coalition had been killed, and news services reported that all were American. It would make it the deadliest day for Americans in Afghanistan since August, when 30 U.S. soldiers died in the downing of a Chinook helicopter in the eastern part of the country.
The attack demonstrated the continuing ability of Taliban insurgents to stage shocking attacks against coalition forces and civilians. U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen, commander of ISAF, said he was "saddened and outraged" by the attacks and said that the insurgents were trying "to hide the fact that they are losing territory, support and the will to fight."
The attack took place in front of the American university here not far from a U.S.-run military base, on a route often used by coalition forces. Gen. Mohammed Ayob Salangi, the police chief of Kabul, said that at least four Afghans were killed, including two schoolchildren, a bicyclist and a police officer.
An eyewitness at the scene saw thick plumes of smoke rising from a burning military bus that contained the badly mangled bodies of soldiers in uniform. The blackened wreckage of vehicles littered the area. At least two ISAF helicopters landed near the site and evacuated the bodies and wounded.
"They were all Americans," Khalil Al-Rahman, a 35-year-old shopkeeper at the scene, said of the dead.
Afghan and NATO security forces cordoned off the bombing site. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack through its spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, who said that the car bomb carried 700 kilograms of explosives _ more than 1,500 pounds. He claimed 25 NATO soldiers were killed.
The Taliban also confirmed that civilians had been killed and wounded. The insurgent group often exaggerates the extent of its attacks and almost never acknowledges civilian casualties.
NATO officials say that the insurgent group is weakened and on the run, but it nevertheless remains capable of carrying out spectacular attacks in the heart of Kabul, as it has done multiple times this year.
In a similar attack in May 2010, in the same area of Kabul, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a U.S. military convoy, killing 18 people including five U.S. soldiers.
Saturday mornings bombing was one of several violent incidents around the country targeting either the U.S.-led coalition or Afghan government offices.
As Taliban insurgents continue their attacks across the country, NATO and the United Nations are giving sharply different pictures of the violence in Afghanistan. While NATO officials announced a significant drop in attacks on Afghan and foreign forces over the summer, a United Nations report released in September showed that violence against civilians had risen to its highest levels of the decade-long war.
In the southern province of Uruzgan, an insurgent wearing an Afghan national army uniform killed three Australian service members, according to an ISAF statement. The shooter was also killed in the incident.
In the eastern province of Kunar, a female teenage suicide bomber struck near the provincial office of the National Directorate for Security, the main Afghan intelligence agency. One civilian was killed and seven others were injured, including five police officers, provincial officials said.
A police official who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name said that a second female suicide bomber in the area managed to escape. It was at least the second case of a female suicide bomber in Kunar; last June, a woman detonated a suicide vest concealed beneath her burka, a full-body cloak worn by many Afghan women, killing two U.S. soldiers and injuring scores of civilians.
(Zohori is a special McClatchy correspondent. Shashank Bengali at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.) < < MORE FROM MCCLATCHY Afghans find little to praise in new U.S.-led offensive Afghans wonder, too, about strategic pact with India Commandos killed in Afghanistan were fighting war few see For more international news visit McClatchy's World page.