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September 18, 2009

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Suicide bomb leaves 16 dead

SUICIDE car bomber attacked an Italian military convoy in the heart of Afghanistan's capital yesterday, killing six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.

The fourth major attack in the capital in five weeks, it was the latest reminder that even heavily guarded Kabul is vulnerable in a guerrilla war that has grown far beyond Taliban strongholds in the south.

The suicide bomber rammed his explosives-filled car into two Italian military vehicles about midday, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in Rome. He said six of those aboard were killed and four wounded.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility, saying in a text message that one of their militants carried out the suicide attack against NATO forces.

The explosion shattered windows in buildings about a kilometer away and shook offices and homes throughout the central Afghan neighborhood that houses a number of embassies and military bases.

Charred vehicles littered the area around the blast site - a road just off a main traffic circle that leads to the airport. An Associated Press reporter saw at least six vehicles burned, including an Italian Humvee, and two burned bodies that were later covered with plastic sheets.

The Interior Ministry said 10 Afghan civilians were killed and 55 wounded.

Shopkeeper Feraudin Ansari said he felt the blast in his store about 50 meters from the site. Windows were broken in all the shops on the street. He said he was angry at NATO forces for patrolling in downtown areas.

"Why are you patrolling inside the city? There is no al-Qaida, no Taliban here," 25-year-old Ansari said. "My shop is destroyed and my head hurts from the blast."

Violence has increased as the US sent thousands more troops to push back the resurgent Taliban and bolster security for last month's presidential election. The Taliban made good on threats to disturb the vote, and militant attacks have risen not just in the group's southern heartland but also in the north and in Kabul and surrounding areas.

The increased fighting and massive fraud allegations threatening the legitimacy of the election have raised questions about whether the United States and NATO are using the right tactics to win the war. Final results from the vote are likely to be delayed for weeks while fraud is investigated.

On Wednesday, US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry took a public walk around a Kabul neighborhood, saying international officials need to spend less time behind blast walls and more time interacting with the Afghan people.

The commanding officer of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has called for the military to be more engaged with the Afghan people in order to better protect them from Taliban insurgents, and hopefully win their trust.


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