By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 14, 2008
KABUL, Nov. 13 -- An American soldier and 18 Afghan civilians were killed Thursday after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a convoy of U.S. military vehicles in a busy market in eastern Afghanistan.
The blast occurred about 8 a.m. in the district of Bati Kot, in eastern Nangahar province. The bomber drove his Toyota Corolla packed with explosives into the convoy as it passed through a meat market teeming with vendors and shoppers, according to witnesses and Afghan officials.
The explosion damaged several nearby cars and military vehicles, killing the U.S. soldier and 18 Afghan civilians, and wounding at least 75 people.
Violence across Afghanistan has reached new peaks this year as the Taliban has regained strength in the south and east and launched attacks in the west. Casualties among foreign troops have reached new highs, with an estimated 148 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year. More than 1,000 foreign troops have been killed since the war began.
Mandozai Takal, a resident of the area, said he had just arrived with a goat to sell at the market when he saw the Toyota careen into the convoy. "A huge flame blew through the air. I didn't know what had happened, but when I opened my eyes I saw people covered in blood and animal parts scattered all over the market," Takal said.
Witnesses and Afghan officials said U.S. military helicopters rushed to the scene and evacuated dozens of casualties.
"The people who did this are the enemies of Afghanistan," said Ahmad Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangahar.
U.S. military authorities generally do not release the names of soldiers killed in action until their families are notified.
The suicide attack in Nangahar was the second major Taliban strike in two days. On Wednesday, six people were killed and 40 wounded in the southern city of Kandahar after a suicide bomber in a tanker truck packed with explosives attacked the offices of the provincial council there. Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, narrowly survived the attack, but the bombing decimated the council offices and damaged several nearby homes.
Wednesday's suicide bombing in southern Kandahar capped a day of violence in the heart of Taliban territory. Earlier on Wednesday, 16 school-age girls were hospitalized after alleged Taliban insurgents attacked a girls' school in the village of Mirwais Mina and doused students with acid.
Thursday's attack in eastern Afghanistan came amid renewed violence just across the border in Pakistan, where insurgents recently clashed heavily with Pakistani security forces. Within hours of the attack on the U.S. convoy in Nangahar, authorities reported that unknown gunmen had abducted an Iranian diplomat near the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
According to police officials in the northwest Pakistani city of Hayatabad, gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying Attarzadeh Niaki, the commercial attache for the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar, and killed his driver. The gunmen then wrestled Niaki into a vehicle and whisked him to an unknown location, officials said.
On Wednesday, Taliban assassins gunned down an American aid worker and his driver in an upscale neighborhood of Peshawar favored by diplomats. Authorities said the aid worker, Stephen D. Vance, was on his way to work when gunmen opened fire on his unarmored vehicle in University Town. Vance worked for a jobs-development initiative that is administered by the Silver Spring-based nonprofit Cooperative Housing Foundation International and is intended to improve living conditions in Pakistan's volatile tribal areas.
Special correspondents Javed Hamdard in Kabul and Haq Nawaz Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.