This post has been updated. See the notes below for details.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The first bomb tore through a minivan packed with civilians traveling on a rural roadway. The second hit those who came to the rescue. [Updated, 7:45 a.m. July 8: And the third hit yet another civilian vehicle, a short distance away and a short time later.]
Officials in Kandahar province said 18 civilians were killed and 10 were hurt in three separate explosions on Sunday in a single district: Arghistan, close to the Pakistan border. Taken together, the incidents represented an unusual concentration of violence, even in what is known to be a volatile part of the country. [Updated, 7:45 a.m. July 8: The toll rose from 14 dead and nine wounded since the original post at 5:05 a.m.]
Adding to the toll in the south, two NATO troops were killed by IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, in southern Afghanistan. The Western military did not disclose their nationalities or precisely where the deaths occurred. [Updated, 7:45 a.m. July 8: The toll rose from one reported fatality in the original post at 5:05 a.m.]
[Updated, 7:45 a.m. July 8: Underscoring insurgents’ determination to stage a comeback in Kandahar province, their traditional heartland, a band of insurgents stormed a police checkpoint in the district of Musa Qala just after dawn Sunday, the governor’s office said. Casualties in the initial fighting were lopsided -- 22 insurgents killed and three policemen wounded, according to provincial authorities. But another five policemen were killed by a roadside bomb after the police at the checkpoint called for reinforcements, according to Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor.]
On the civilian side, the carnage began early Sunday when one blast struck a van carrying at least 10 people, most of them thought to be relatives, on their way to the Pakistan frontier, authorities said. A second went off when people living nearby -- having heard the explosion -- arrived on the scene by tractor, frantically attempting to help the wounded. Still another bomb went off at midday on a nearby stretch of road, according to local officials.
Five of the dead were women, said provincial spokesman Ahmad Javed Faisal.
Roadside bombs kill hundreds of Afghan civilians every year and maim thousands more. Almost always, they are planted by insurgents who intend them for coalition troops. Military patrols and civilian vehicles use the same roads, and it is most often noncombatants -- who tend to travel in crowded, rattletrap vehicles -- who bear the brunt of the blasts.
More than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed last year in violence attributed to the war. The pace of noncombatant fatalities dropped sharply in the the early months of this year, as Afghanistan experienced its harshest winter in many years, but civilian deaths have spiked in recent weeks after temperatures rose and the summer "fighting season" heated up.
-- Laura King and Aimal Yaqubi
Photo: An Afghan boy who was injured in a roadside bombing is treated at a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan. Credit: Akhter Gulfam / EPA