REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, and NEW DELHI -- As many as 13 Americans were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber struck an armored military bus in Kabul, in the single deadliest attack on U.S. citizens in the Afghan capital since the war began a decade ago.
[Updated, 11:40 a.m., Oct. 29, 2011: NATO officials said that five troops and eight civilian contractors were killed in the attack.]
The attack represents a propaganda coup for the Taliban, which claimed responsibility in text messages to news organizations, saying it packed a four-wheel-drive vehicle with at least 700 pounds of explosives.
The Kabul car bombing took place near the American University on Darulaman Road, among the capital’s busiest, which runs past parliament and the decaying Darulaman Palace -– or “abode of peace.”
A NATO spokesman said all 13 were traveling in a type of military bus known as a Rhino, named for its heavy armor. The identities of those killed in the attack were not disclosed in keeping with a coalition policy to first notify family members.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said the blast also killed at least three Afghan civilians and one policeman.
Deadly attacks are relatively rare in Kabul, which has better security than the south and eastern parts of Afghanistan. In recent months, however, with the U.S.-led coalition announcing plans to turn security over to Afghan forces by 2014, the Taliban has stepped up assaults in a bid to bolster its political grip after the pullout.
In preparation for the transfer of responsibility to Afghans, coalition training of Afghan police and army personnel has expanded. Darulaman Road is part of a route often taken by trainers moving in buses and other vehicles between Kabul’s military training center and heavily fortified NATO bases in downtown Kabul.
Saturday’s attack comes less than two months after insurgents launched a brazen 19-hour assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, killing more than a dozen people, which was meant to send a message that no place in the country is secure or out of its reach.
In another deadly incident, the coalition reported in a statement that an attacker wearing an Afghan military uniform opened fire on NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, killing at least two, before others returned fire and killed him.
Other reports suggested a third NATO soldier, an Australian, died a short while later in the incident in southern Uruzgan province. Also reportedly killed was an Afghan interpreter.
In a third incident in eastern Afghanistan, guards fired on a female suicide bomber wearing a burqa as she tried to enter a government building, which prompted her to detonate her explosives.
She was the only casualty in the incident, which occurred near the local branch of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s spy agency, according to Abdul Sabor Allayar, Kunar province’s deputy police chief, although two agency employees and two civilians were wounded.
-- Hashmat Baktash in Kabul and Mark Magnier in New Delhi
Photo: U.S. troops prepare to remove the wreckage of a bus hit by a suicide attack in Kabul on Saturday. Credit: Mohammad Ismail / Reuters