KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb killed at least 21 passengers traveling on a minibus Thursday in western Afghanistan, another example of civilians being caught in the crossfire of fighting between Taliban insurgents and the U.S.-led coalition.
In the country's east, a suicide car bomber attacked a coalition base Thursday, killing two Afghan security guards, officials said, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The minibus ran over a roadside bomb in Obe district in Herat province, setting off a blast that killed 21 passengers, said Gen. Zaiuddin Mamoodi, an Afghan National Police commander for four provinces of western Afghanistan. Twelve of the victims were children under the age of 5, three were women and six were men, he said. Eleven others were wounded, he said.
"It was a big, powerful blast. The bodies are not easily recognizable," said Abdul Bashir, an elder of a village in the district.
Mohyuddin Noori, a spokesman for the province's governor, said the bus was on its way to a bazaar where the passengers were going to shop.
Noori also said that a small truck hit another roadside bomb Thursday morning in the same district, seriously wounding at least four civilians.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led coalition condemned the bombings.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base that Americans operate near Gardez, the capital of Paktia province. There are more than 20 so-called PRTs across Afghanistan where international civilian and military workers train Afghan government officials and help with local development projects.
The bomber hid the explosives in a truck loaded with wood, said Abdul Hay Atrafi, an Afghan Border Police commander for several provinces in southeast Afghanistan. The bomber sped through an outer gate, then blew up the vehicle when he came under fire at a second gate, Atrafi said.
Army Master Sgt. Nicholas Conner, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said two Afghan security guards died in the explosion. There were no NATO causalities, he said.
Atrafi said several people were also wounded in the explosion, which occurred shortly before 7 a.m. local time at the base 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the capital Kabul.
"It was a very powerful explosion because it was a truck," Atrafi said, adding that the blast caused extensive damage and shattered windows nearby.
In a statement e-mailed to the media, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the attack was carried out by a 70-year-old suicide bomber from Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border. He said the truck contained 7 tons of explosives and the explosion killed and wounded more than 60 U.S. soldiers.
The Taliban often exaggerate casualties and other details of their attacks.
Suicide attacks and other bombings have intensified as militants try to undermine confidence in the Afghan government's ability to provide security as the U.S. begins to withdraw some forces.
A recent report by the United Nations said the number of Afghan civilians killed in war-related violence rose 15 percent in the first half of this year. The U.N. said 1,462 Afghan civilians lost their lives in the first six months of the year compared with 1,271 in the same period of 2010.
In the south, three Afghan police officers died in a shootout with Afghan soldiers Wednesday evening in Zhari district of Kandahar province, said Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, the top government official in Zhari. Nine civilians, three Afghan policemen and two Afghan soldiers were wounded in the fight, which is under investigation, he said.
Also in Kandahar, Afghan police killed four militants who attacked a NATO supply convoy in Maiwand district Thursday evening, Kandahar provincial spokesman Zulmai Ayubi said. After a half-hour fight, the police arrested four other militants, he said.