Kabul suicide attack kills six Italian troops, 10 Afghans
The bomber struck just after midday, close to the US embassy on the busy airport road, destroying at least one vehicle of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.Kabul -- A massive suicide car bomb ripped into NATO vehicles killing six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians on Thursday in one of the deadliest attacks on Western troops in Kabul, officials said.
The bomber struck just after midday about 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the US embassy on the busy airport road, destroying at least one vehicle of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Six Italian soldiers were killed and another three wounded, the Italian defence ministry announced, as the Taliban claimed one of the worst single attacks on the more than 100,000 NATO and US-led troops serving in Afghanistan.
A second armoured vehicle also with an Italian flag and marked with the ISAF logo was badly damaged, the blast scattering metal across the blood-stained road, where civilians staggered through the wreckage hunting for relatives.
"I thought that day had become night. When I came back, for minutes I couldn't see anything. Then I saw one man lying on the tarmac without a head," said shopkeeper Fawad.
Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told the Senate in Rome that 10 Italian paratroopers were travelling in two armoured vehicles when the suicide bomber struck, apparently in a white Toyota vehicle.
"Sadly I must confirm the loss of six human lives from the parachute regiment," he said. Italy is the sixth biggest contributor of Western forces fighting in Afghanistan with about 3,250 troops on the ground.
Afghanistan's interior ministry said 10 Afghan civilians were killed and 55 wounded in the attack.
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels -- at least 365 in 2009 -- and the mounting number of Western troops coming home in body bags has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.
Italy vowed that the attack would not force its troops out of Afghanistan and EU lawmakers observed a minute's silence.
"We must worker harder to win the hearts of the Afghans, those we consider our allies, so as to isolate the terrorists," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Sobbing women and children rushed to the blast site, shouting the names of relatives they feared were caught in the attack, an AFP reporter said.
The force of the blast punched a huge crater in the dusty road and flung a heavily armoured Humvee military vehicle into the air and onto the other side of the road, witnesses said, destroying it.
"It was the loudest blast I ever heard. All I could see afterwards was that an ISAF vehicle was on fire and the road was dark black," said Shah Mohammad, who stood at the blast site covered in dust.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militia -- waging an insurgency against the Afghan government and its Western military backers -- carried out the suicide attack, speaking in a telephone call to AFP.
President Hamid Karzai, who won a clear majority in last month's election according to preliminary results, condemned the attack as "barbaric."
ISAF said in a statement that they were mourning their dead colleagues, while the US embassy called the attack a "senseless act of violence."
Kabul, home to significant numbers of Western officials, troops and aid workers, has suffered a recent spike in suicide blasts claimed by Taliban militants bent on toppling the Western-backed government.
On September 8, one such attack killed three civilians outside the city's military airport and two attacks also targeted NATO troops last month.
Two days before the August 20 presidential and provincial council elections, another suicide car bomb targeted a NATO convoy near a US military base in the capital, killing 10 people including a NATO soldier.
Thursday's bombing was the deadliest against foreign troops in the capital in recent memory and one of the worst in the country. In August 2008, 10 French troops were killed in an ambush in Kabul province.
The 100,000 US and NATO-led forces are in Afghanistan helping the government battle a Taliban insurgency at its worst since the Islamist hardliners were overthrown in a US-backed invasion in late 2001.