Afghan mujahidin kill 18
Kabul - A suicide car bomber attacked a Nato convoy in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, killing six foreign soldiers and at least 12 Afghan civilians in one of the deadliest strikes on Kabul in more than a year.
The Taliban, which is leading a nearly nine-year insurgency against the government and its foreign backers, claimed responsibility for the bomb, having pledged a new nationwide campaign of attacks.
The bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives during rush hour, unleashing blood and chaos on a clogged street near parliament and on a nearby hospital run by foreigners, an army recruitment centre and the ministry of water and energy.
The Nato International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed one of its convoys had been hit and said six international soldiers were killed and several others wounded.
Interior ministry spokesperson Zemarai Bashary said 12 civilians were killed and 47 wounded. Most had been passing in a bus when the bomber blew up the car.
Children and women were among the dead.
The American University of Afghanistan was across the road from the bomb site and the Kabul museum about 100m away.
A burnt-out vehicle sat crumpled in the street and Afghan civilians, some covered in blood, were being evacuated from the site.
Among them was a little girl wearing school uniform of a black skirt and white headscarf, who was carried out by a volunteer.
The militia are waging an increasingly deadly insurgency and attacks have increased over the past 12 months in the heavily guarded capital.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "strongly" condemned the attack but said the alliance remained "committed to its mission to protect the Afghan people and to strengthen Afghanistan's ability to resist terrorism".
It was the first major attack in Kabul since February 26, when Taliban suicide bombers targeted guest houses, killing 16 people including Westerners and Indians in one of the deadliest attacks on foreigners.
On October 8 2009 a massive suicide bomb killed 17 people near the Indian embassy. On February 11 2009, the Taliban launched suicide bomb and gun attacks on three Afghan government buildings, killing at least 26 people.
Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesperson, telephoned AFP from an undisclosed location to claim responsibility.
"The attack, which was a suicide car bomb, was carried out by one of our mujahidin", or holy warriors, he said.119 troops dead
The Taliban had vowed to unleash a new nationwide campaign of attacks from May 10 targeting diplomats, members of the Afghan parliament, foreign contractors and the 130 000-strong international military force in Afghanistan.
Also on Tuesday, in the eastern province of Paktia, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a local administration headquarters after police opened fire on him, the interior ministry said.
A police officer was killed, it said.
Two police officers and two soldiers were killed in separate Taliban-style roadside bombings in the southern province of Helmand, the interior and defence ministries said.
The attacks were blamed on Taliban.
At least 208 Nato soldiers have died in the war so far this year, according to an AFP tally. It is the deadliest January to May period since a US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime in 2001.
From January to the end of May of 2009, 119 Nato soldiers died in Afghanistan. Overall, 520 Nato troops died in 2009, the deadliest year so far for the US-led foreign force since the 2001 invasion.
The United States and its NATO allies plan to increase their deployment to 150 000 personnel by August.
Washington believes this "surge" can wrest the initiative from the Taliban in key population centres and allow US forces to start withdrawing from the unpopular and costly conflict next year.