A Taliban suicide bomber slammed a car packed with explosives into an armored bus carrying NATO troops in Kabul on Saturday. At least 13 American soldiers died in the attack, according to a Pentagon spokesman. The blast incinerated the vehicle and is the latest in a series of recent high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.
Four Afghans were also killed in the explosion, according to officials. Heavy black smoke poured from burning wreckage at the site along the four-lane highway frequently used by foreign military trainers in the southwestern section of the city.
The bus was carrying the troops to a military training center in the west of Kabul, where Parliament and the American University of Afghanistan are also located. In a text message to media outlets, the Taliban said a suicide bomber named Abdul Rahman had 1,540 pounds of explosives packed inside the vehicle, though Afghan officials told reporters the extent of the damage indicated an even larger amount.
It was the deadliest single attack against the U.S.-led coalition since the Taliban shot down a NATO helicopter on Aug. 6 in an eastern Afghan province, killing 30 U.S. troops, most of them elite Navy SEALs, and eight Afghans. The recent increase in spectacular attacks and high-profile assassinations, like that of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani last month, signal that the Taliban is stepping up its campaign of violence.
It's a blow to efforts by the U.S. and President Hamid Karzai to forge peace with the fundamentalist Taliban movement as NATO plans to withdraw all its combat troops from the country by the end of 2014, with support for the costly war reaching new lows in the West.
Underscoring the difficulties ahead, the brazen assault occurred on the same day that top NATO and Afghan officials were meeting elsewhere in Kabul to discuss the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan forces in all or part of 17 of the country's 34 provinces.
Saturday's attack broke a relative lull in the Afghan capital, an area where NATO has already shifted security responsibilities to the Afghans. While checkpoints dot the central part of the city, attacks occasionally take place, with many blamed on the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida and Taliban-linked movement that operates out of Pakistan.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for another suicide bombing outside a government intelligence office in the northwest province of Kunaron on Saturday; only the bomber was killed.
Abdul Sabor Allayar, deputy provincial police chief, said the guards outside the government's intelligence office in Asad Abad became suspicious of the woman and started shooting, at which point she detonated her explosives. No other casualties were reported in that attack.
In a third attack, a man wearing an Afghan military uniform opened fire on a joint NATO-Afghan base, killing three Australian service members in Uruzgan province, an area in the restive south that is traditionally viewed as the Taliban's stronghold, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said officials were investigating whether the shooter, who was killed in the incident, was a member of the Afghan army or a militant wearing an army uniform.
Ahmad Shafi contributed to this report for NPR, which contains material from The Associated Press.