By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 2:58 PM
KABUL - Six U.S. troops were killed Sunday when a man rammed a minivan packed with explosives into a newly built military installation in Kandahar Province, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The attack in a farming village in Zhari district, a Taliban stronghold where American soldiers are attempting to restore Afghan government control, was the latest in a string of incidents that have made the onset of winter here unusually deadly.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted online. The statement said the suicide bomber, identified as Ahmadullah, drove the minivan packed with 2,000 kilograms of explosives into the building.
The statement said U.S. soldiers had been busy in recent days turning a large house into an outpost.
U.S. forces have suffered heavy casualties in Kandahar this year as they have built a network of small outposts in and around the country's second largest city, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
U.S. military and some Afghan officials say the effort has curbed the Taliban's control in key areas the group controlled until recently.
But the Afghan government's presence in the province remains anemic.
Sunday's attack comes two weeks after an Afghan border guard turned his weapon on U.S. trainers in the east, killing six troops.
So far this year, at least 670 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan, far more than the 502 killed last year, which had been the deadliest in the nine year war, according to a count by the Associated Press.
Mines and powerful roadside bombings have become the deadliest weapons used against NATO troops in southern Afghanistan.
The Obama administration, which authorized a 30,000-troop surge last year, is expecting an interagency report of the state of the war later this month. The assessment will be used to fine-tune the United States's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan as the war enters its 10th year.
Sunday's attack comes a day after an unusually deadly spate of military operations that left at least 40 suspected insurgents and seven civilians dead, according to the military.
The bloodshed comes amid continuing political tension in Kabul over the results of Afghanistan's parliamentary election in September.
Fazl Ahmad Manawi, the head of the country's independent election commission said in a press conference Sunday that the attorney general's office is attempting to use its investigative powers to pressure the commission to alter the results.
Afghan prosecutors have ordered the arrest of commission members in recent days on fraud charges - a move the election commission has interpreted as an intimidation tactic.