A Canadian defense spokesman said that a Canadian soldier was among the five troops killed, the Associated Press reported.
The Taliban attack struck at a central goal of the U.S. military here: protecting Kabul and other major cities from the type of high-visibility violence that leads Afghans to fear that their government cannot protect them. U.S. troops deployed as far away as the Pakistani border fight in the farmlands and mountains to disrupt insurgents intent on bringing their bombs to Kabul.
Such violence is rare in the city, particularly against U.S. troops, who do not regularly patrol there; they leave that to Afghan soldiers and police, although they do move between their headquarters and other bases in Kabul. The van targeted one such convoy Saturday, exploding against a large armored vehicle known as a Rhino as it passed the private American University, reducing the troop carrier to smoking wreckage and spraying shrapnel across a four-lane highway.
The Taliban asserted responsibility for the bombing, claiming that 1,500 pounds of explosives had been used. In the past, attacks in Kabul have often been the work of the Haqqani network, an affiliated group of insurgents based in Pakistan’s tribal areas who have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service.
The attack was further evidence of an evolution in Taliban tactics. The insurgency has proved less capable this year of confronting the bulk of U.S. troops based in southern and eastern Afghanistan; violence levels this fighting season have fallen. But it has marshaled its resources for high-profile assaults in major cities against government and military targets, as well as for assassinations of top Afghan officials.
Last month, a team of Taliban fighters waged a prolonged gun-and-grenade battle against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from a building overlooking the downtown compound. Seven Afghans were killed in that attack, although there were no U.S. casualties. Also last month, a suicide bomber killed an Afghan peace envoy and former president, disrupting the nascent efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. In August, insurgents stormed a British cultural center in the capital, leaving eight people dead.
Saturday’s bombing resulted in the highest U.S. death toll in a single incident since Aug. 6, when insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, killing 30 U.S. Special Operations troops and eight Afghans.
The attack took place not far from Darulaman palace, the bombed-out former kings’ residence that sits on a hill on the western outskirts of the city. The area is one of the most common places in Kabul to see NATO convoys as they travel between nearby bases, and insurgents have targeted them before, as in a May 2010 bombing that killed 18 people, including five U.S. troops.