Afghan blast kills 25 on bus
Deadly month for civilians, US forces
KABUL, Afghanistan — A packed bus hit a roadside bomb yesterday in southern Afghanistan, killing 25 people aboard, as NATO announced another US service member died, adding to a rapidly rising monthly death toll.
The passenger bus was traveling in Nimroz Province on a main highway toward the capital, Kabul, when it struck the explosive about 7 a.m., said Nazir Ahmad, a provincial government spokesman. Another 20 people were wounded, he said.
The explosion occurred near Delaram — a volatile area close to the borders of Helmand and Farah provinces.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. “The criminals who did this are the enemies of Muslims,’’ he said in a statement.
Also yesterday, officials reported that three more international service members were killed — two Italians and an American. The Italians died yesterday in a roadside bombing north of Herat, the Italian Defense Ministry said. The American was killed Tuesday in the south, NATO said.
July has already been one of the deadliest months for US troops in the nearly nine-year Afghan war, with 59 service members killed. That is just shy of the 60 who died in June — the deadliest month for US forces. Altogether, 82 NATO troops have died in July. In June, 103 NATO forces were killed.
The rising death toll is occurring as US forces continue the search for a missing Navy sailor believed captured last week by Taliban forces when he and a colleague drove into an insurgent-held area of eastern Afghanistan. One of the sailors was killed in a firefight with militants, and the Taliban have said they seized the other.
US forces have pushed into southern Taliban strongholds in recent months and weeks in an attempt to squeeze insurgents out of the area where they have long functioned as a de-facto government. Along with the surge, attacks on military forces and Afghan supporters of the government have increased. Many civilians have also been killed or wounded in events such as yesterday’s bus bombing or caught up in the crossfire.
Yesterday, an Afghan villager was killed by US soldiers in the volatile Arghandab Valley, a strategic area near Kandahar City. An Associated Press journalist who witnessed the shooting said soldiers approached a compound near where they had found a hidden bomb. Someone fired at the Americans, who shot back, killing a man who the troops said was carrying a rifle.
The villagers insisted that he was not a Taliban member and maintained they did not hear gunfire, although the AP journalist said bullets were flying near the troops.
On Monday, the Afghan government said 52 civilians, including women and children, died when a NATO rocket struck a village in southern Afghanistan last week — a report the international coalition has disputed.
Karzai’s office said an investigation by Afghan intelligence officers determined a NATO rocket slammed into Rigi village in Helmand Province, one of the most violent areas of the country.
The US-led command also said an investigation was underway but reports of mass civilian casualties in Rigi were unfounded.
NATO said investigators determined that alliance and Afghan troops came under attack Friday about 6 miles south of the village and responded with helicopter-borne strikes. Coalition forces reported six insurgents killed, including a commander.
In central Uruzgan Province, meanwhile, three Afghan soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb yesterday, said Gulab Khan, deputy provincial police chief.
Army Brigadier General Josef Blotz of Germany told reporters yesterday in Kabul that the Taliban’s senior leadership ordered the assassination of multiple tribal elders in an area of Uruzgan.
“This follows the kidnapping and execution of two tribal elders for cooperating with the coalition,’’ he said, alleging recent attacks can be traced to instructions issued by Taliban leader Mullah Omar to attack anyone supporting the government.
During the past 90 days, 350 Taliban figures have been captured or killed by coalition forces, Blotz said.