A Taliban suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed van into a NATO military patrol on a busy commercial street in a southern Afghan city, firing deadly shrapnel at nearby storeowners and shoppers. One NATO soldier and eight Afghan civilians were killed.
The blast in Kandahar on Friday also wounded another NATO soldier and eight civilians. A dozen shops were wrecked. Vegetables spilled onto a bloodstained Khojuk Baba Road, which was also littered with twisted metal from the vehicle used by the bomber.
The bomber struck the seventh vehicle of a NATO convoy composed of mainly US troops, a NATO official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to share the information with media, did not divulge the nationality of the dead or wounded troops.
The road is a main thoroughfare used to reach outlying villages. Most of those killed and wounded were shopkeepers. Among those injured were two children and a woman, said Masood Khan, a doctor at a local hospital.
"These innocent people sitting in the shops or passing by on a Ramadan day have been killed and wounded," said Naqibullah Khan, an angry grocery shop owner near the blast site. Ramadan is the Islamic holy month of fasting.
"I do not know what type of jihad (holy war) this is. Why do they (Taliban) want to kill their Muslim brothers?" The attack, one of many to hit the area of Kandahar this year, underlined the challenges facing NATO, and raised further doubts about its ability to secure what was the seat of the Taliban regime before its ouster in late 2001.
The military alliance says its clashes with insurgents have decreased in recent weeks. But militants are increasingly resorting to roadside and suicide attacks in their bid to weaken the government and hit foreign troops.
According to NATO figures, there have been at least 78 suicide attacks in Afghanistan this year, a nearly four fold increase from the whole of 2005 _ that have killed 142 Afghan civilians, 40 Afghan security personnel and 13 international troops.
"This indiscriminate attack further demonstrates the insurgents' total disregard for the safety of the local population of Kandahar city," a NATO statement said.
One of the wounded civilians, Karim Khan, lay on a hospital bed, his body peppered with shrapnel. With a faltering voice, he recalled how the blast sent him flying from his bicycle and into the air as he traveled to a butcher's shop to buy some meat. "I was unconscious, and when I opened my eyes I was in the hospital," the 25-year-old said. "My mother will be worried sick when she knows I am wounded."
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, contacted an Associated Press reporter in Kandahar by phone from an undisclosed location to claim the militia's responsibility for the blast.