KABUL, Afghanistan—A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car Friday next to a U.S. military convoy, killing at least 16 people, including two American soldiers, just yards from the fortified entrance of the U.S. Embassy in central Kabul.
The attack, the bloodiest in the Afghan capital since American troops and their Afghan allies toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in 2001, came as more than 40,000 U.S. and NATO-led forces struggle to contain a resurgence of the Taliban and their al Qaida allies in Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces.
At least 76 American and 73 NATO troops have died so far this year in Afghanistan. NATO officials, who took over command of the Afghanistan campaign from the United States last month, have admitted surprise at the intensity of the fighting. On Thursday, NATO'S commander, Gen. James L. Jones, called for another 2,000 to 2,500 NATO troops.
Intelligence officials told McClatchy Newspapers earlier this year that much of the violence in Afghanistan has come from tactics—such as car bombings, suicide attacks and homemade bombs—that were brought to Afghanistan by militants trained in their use in Iraq. Many of those militants had volunteered to remain in Iraq, but their trainers told them to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train others, the officials said.
Friday's bombing occurred three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. But several Western and American officials said it wasn't certain that the bombing was timed to coincide with it.
"I don't think it is linked," said Col. Tom Collins, a U.S. military spokesman. "The timing is what it is."
The bombing may have been staged to coincide with the fifth anniversary Saturday of the assassination of a fabled guerrilla leader and Taliban opponent, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by suspected al-Qaida operatives posing as television journalists. The day is commemorated as a national holiday.
The traffic circle near where Friday's bombing occurred is named for Massoud, whose northern alliance swept the Taliban from power with the aid of American special forces and air power.
"Today's heinous act of terrorism is against the values of Islam and humanity," President Hamid Karzai declared.
The car bomber detonated his explosives around 10:30 a.m. next to a Humvee in a convoy of three U.S. military vehicles that was driving on one of several broad boulevards that lead from the circle.
"There was a huge blast and there was fire and smoke," said Nasir Nasrat, 13, who was flying a kite from the roof of an apartment building that overlooks the site. "I ran downstairs and I saw the upper half of a boy's body hanging from a tree. There was a woman missing an arm and a leg."
Police said that at least 16 people were killed, including two U.S. soldiers in the Humvee. Two other American soldiers were injured, Collins said. News reports said dozens of Afghans were injured.
The blast was about 200 yards from the heavily protected entrance to the U.S. Embassy in the city's upscale Wazir Akbar Khan area.
The circle, which features a monument bearing Massoud's portrait and a column topped by a pair of hands nestling the globe, sits on the main road linking Kabul airport and the massive U.S. Embassy compound.
"It's a very popular route with the U.S. military," said an official of the 20,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, who requested anonymity because the issue is politically sensitive.
A roadside bomb wounded four Italian ISAF soldiers Friday in western Farah province, the ISAF announced.
The worst of the fighting has been in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. The ISAF launched an offensive launched Saturday to drive the Taliban from the main highway in the Panjwayi district, west of the city of Kandahar.
It was unclear Friday whether NATO's 26 member countries would commit more troops to Afghanistan. Military officials from those countries met in Poland to discuss the fighting but no agreement on sending reinforcements was announced. The meeting is to conclude Saturday.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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