13 U.S. Troops Are Killed in Kabul Suicide Car Bombing

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KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 13 American soldiers and four Afghans were killed when a Taliban suicide car bomber attacked an armored shuttle bus in Kabul on Saturday, a Western military official said.

It was the single most deadly attack for American or other NATO troops in the capital since the war began, military officials said, and follows brazen Taliban assaults on the American Embassy and NATO headquarters in the capital last month.

Such high-profile attacks have been seen as a shift in Taliban strategy as they struggle against a surge in American troops that has loosened the militants’ grip on the Taliban heartland in the South and compromised the ability to stage more conventional attacks on NATO forces. American officials see the latest assaults as the Taliban’s attempt to shake confidence in the Afghan government, which is taking over security from NATO in Kabul and other areas of the country.

The deaths on Saturday represented the largest loss of American lives in Afghanistan since 30 Americans died in an Aug. 6 attack on a helicopter. The attack on the bus, known as a Rhino because of its heavy armor, took place in front of the American University on a route often traveled by military trainers from NATO bases in downtown Kabul to the Kabul Military Training Center.

The force of the blast tossed the bus several yards, according to Afghan police at the scene. One witness, a taxi driver, said the bus was lying on its side, completely blackened, and that some of the dead civilians appeared to have been crushed by it. Two American soldiers were wounded, but one of them later died of his injuries, according to Afghan and NATO officials.

The attack was one of four in the last two days on allied forces and government offices, including one attack on Saturday in which an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on the Australian troops he was working with, killing three.

In a sign of the continued tensions between Americans and their Afghan allies, President Hamid Karzai issued a statement condemning the Kabul attack, but did not note the loss of American military lives. “The enemies of Afghanistan carried out a dastardly and cowardly attack that caused sorrow for some Afghan families,” he said.

At least two NATO medical evacuation helicopters were seen taking victims away, as the Afghan authorities cordoned off the site on busy Darulman Road. A statement issued by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed that 13 soldiers had died in the attack, but did not identify their nationality.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Sediq Sediqi, said that the Afghan dead included a policeman and three civilians, two of them students, who had been passersby. Saturday’s attack in Kabul was not only the war’s deadliest in the city, but it was also the first time in a year and a half that American forces suffered significant casualties from insurgent attacks in the normally safe capital. On May 18, 2010, five Americans and one Canadian were killed when their convoy was struck by a suicide bomber. That attack also took place on Darulman Road, very close to the scene of Saturday’s carnage.

“Obviously, the Rhinos ferry soldiers back and forth on that road, and while they vary their times and so forth, that is a road you can cruise up and down waiting for them to come,” the Western military official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the attack. Darulman Road is a wide highway that is heavily traveled. Several military facilities as well as Parliament are located along it.

The Kabul police chief, Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, said that American soldiers initially prevented Afghan authorities from going to the scene of the attack, so he could not confirm how many were killed, although he said he did see both wounded and dead being evacuated by helicopter.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility, saying that a suicide bomber named Abdul Rahman Hazarbos drove a truck with 1,500 pounds of explosives into a bus carrying foreign military trainers, killing all aboard. He claimed 25 NATO soldiers were killed.
Afghan and NATO officials said however that the attacker was in a red Toyota Corolla, not a truck.

The separate attack on the Australians on Saturday took place in the Nish district of Kandahar Province, at a forward operating base used by the troops to train the Afghan National Army. Gen. Abdul Hameed, the commander of the Afghan National Army’s 205th Corps, said an Afghan Army trainee opened fire on his Australian trainers, killing three of them as well as an Afghan interpreter.

At least nine others were wounded, General Hameed said, seven of them Australians.
“We don’t know the cause of this shooting yet, and we are investigating,” he said. “We have no idea whether he was motivated by the Taliban or killed the foreign soldiers for some other reason."Other Afghan soldiers killed the attacker, he said. A statement by the NATO-led forces said two ISAF service members were killed in the attack, along with the attacker.

Also on Saturday, a young woman suicide bomber on foot attacked government offices in eastern Asadabad city, wounding four, according to the chief of security for Kunar Province, Abdul Sabor Allayar. Guards at the Afghan intelligence service spotted the woman, who was wearing a burqa , and shot her to death before she could get close enough to cause much harm, he said.

On Friday, insurgents attacked a NATO and Afghan military convoy in eastern Nangarhar Province on Friday, said an ISAF spokesman, Sgt. First Class Michael Montello, and 30 attackers were killed in an ensuing gunfight and airstrikes. He said none of the dead were civilians.

However, Shinwari tribal elders from the village in the Spinghar district where the attack took place blamed a land dispute with Afghan authorities. When the authorities tried to remove them from the area, they resisted, bringing retaliation from NATO that led to many civilian deaths, said a tribal leader, Malik Amin Azimi.

In Khost, unknown gunmen opened fire on a car on Friday night, killing four of the occupants, all of them drivers for NATO supply vehicles, said Col. Zeyarat Gul Azans, spokesman for the Khost police chief.


Team Zissou

The Afghan insurgency can't do Tet-scale offensives against the US military but they don't really need to. I wonder if they're sending the message that they can reach out and touch whoever, generally speaking, they want.