12 Americans Killed As Blast Hits Bus In Afghanistan

The bombing was the single deadliest assault on Americans in the capital since the war began, military officials said, and follows brazen Taliban attacks on the American Embassy and NATO headquarters in the city last month.

A Western defense official said at least four of the dead Americans were G.I.’s and the rest were contract workers; a Canadian soldier and four Afghans were also reported to be killed.
The attack Saturday and the other high-profile assaults are seen as a shift in Taliban strategy as the militants struggle against a surge in American troops that has loosened their grip on the Taliban heartland in the south and compromised their ability to stage more conventional attacks on NATO forces.
American officials see the latest assaults as the Taliban’s attempt to shake confidence in the Afghan government, which has been taking over security from NATO in Kabul and other areas of the country.
NATO has been laboring to highlight advances in Afghanistan as the Obama administration faces mounting budget problems and pressure to keep to a timetable that envisions most forces leaving in 2014. But the attacks underscore the resilience of the Taliban and NATO’s difficulties in keeping militants from attacking even the heavily guarded capital.
Officials initially reported that all of those reported to have died aboard the bus Saturday were soldiers, but NATO later said five were members of the military and eight were contractors. The precise number and nationalities of the dead remained uncertain Saturday night.
A Western defense official confirmed that one Canadian soldier was killed but said it was uncertain whether the Canadian was included in NATO’s count of dead service members.
The attack on the bus, known as a Rhino because of its heavy armor, took place on Darulaman Road, which is often traveled by military trainers from NATO bases in downtown Kabul to the Kabul Military Training Center.
The force of the blast tossed the bus several yards, according to Afghan police at the scene. One witness, a taxi driver, said that the bus was lying on its side, completely blackened, and that it appeared to have crushed some of the dead Afghan civilians.
Only one person on the bus appeared to have survived the blast, according to NATO officials, but that person’s condition was considered grave.
The attack was one of four in the last two days on allied forces and government offices, including one on Saturday in which an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on the Australian troops he was working with, killing three.
In a sign of the continued tensions between Americans and their Afghan allies, President Hamid Karzai issued a statement condemning the Kabul attack, but did not note the loss of American military lives. “The enemies of Afghanistan carried out a dastardly and cowardly attack that caused sorrow for some Afghan families,” he said.
Mr. Karzai’s comments angered American officials in Kabul already bitter over his statement last Sunday that Afghanistan would back Pakistan in any war with the United States — one in a series of pronouncements that might be intended for domestic consumption but raise fears about Mr. Karzai’s steadfastness as an ally.
Saturday’s attack in Kabul was not only the war’s deadliest in the city for Americans; it was also the first time in a year and a half that United States forces suffered significant casualties from an insurgent attack in the normally safe capital. On May 18, 2010, five Americans and one Canadian were killed when their convoy was struck by a suicide bomber. That attack also took place on Darulaman Road, very close to the scene of Saturday’s carnage.
Kabul has been viewed as relatively safe, compared to large tracts of rural Afghanistan where the Taliban are very active. But the recent spectacular assaults have begun to whittle away at that notion.
Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador, called the deaths Saturday “a huge loss.”
“Our deepest sympathies go out to their comrades and families, but it will not deter us from our mission,” he said. “It’s a shock, but we will not let these guys win.”
The deaths represented the largest loss of American lives in Afghanistan since 30 Americans died in an attack on a helicopter Aug. 6.
Darulaman Road, where Saturday’s attack occurred, is a wide highway that is heavily traveled. Several military facilities, as well as Parliament, are along it. NYT