- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — In the most brazen attack yet on Kabul’s heavily guarded center, a car bomber rammed into an American Humvee outside the U.S. Embassy yesterday, killing 16 persons, including two U.S. soldiers. It was the Afghan capital’s deadliest suicide attack since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, took responsibility for the attack, according to the privately run Pajhwok Afghan News Agency.

The attack shattered what had been a typically peaceful Muslim day of prayer in the war-ravaged capital and revealed the lingering vulnerability of foreign troops, local forces and Afghan civilians to terrorist attacks almost five years after a pro-American government was installed. Attacks in central Kabul have been rare in comparison with areas on the edge of the city and in the country’s south.

Some 20,000 NATO soldiers and a similar number of U.S. forces are trying to crush the emboldened Taliban insurgency, mainly in southern Afghanistan. Taliban holdouts have been turning to Iraqi-style tactics — including increasing numbers of suicide bombings — to derail the government of President Hamid Karzai.

“Today’s heinous act of terrorism is against the values of Islam and humanity,” Mr. Karzai said.

The attack occurred as many Afghans were commemorating the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed in an al Qaeda suicide bombing two days before the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Yesterday’s explosion went off at 10:20 a.m. just 150 feet from the landmark Masood Square, which leads to the main gate of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound. It tore a 6-foot-wide crater in the road.

A witness, Najibullah Faizi, 25, said he saw a blue Toyota Corolla driven by a young, heavyset man speed past another car in the inside lane before slamming into one of two U.S. Humvees in a convoy.

“I fell to the ground after the blast. American soldiers started shooting at another car nearby. There was smoke and flames everywhere,” Mr. Faizi said.

The blast sent a plume of brown smoke spiraling hundreds of feet into the sky and tore apart one of the Humvees, blowing it onto what had been its roof and turning it into a twisted, flaming hulk of metal.

All that remained of the bomb-packed car was its front end, which was engulfed in flames some 60 feet away from the explosion.

The blast’s force shattered every window in a five-story, Soviet-era apartment block facing the scene, spraying shards of glass over children eating their breakfasts and women cleaning their cramped homes. Restaurants and businesses on the other side of the road also had windows and doors blown in.

The U.S. military initially said two other soldiers were wounded, but later revised it to one.

American and NATO troops are fighting the Taliban primarily across vast desert plains in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, center of the country’s massive opium trade.

“The fighting is extraordinarily intense. The intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis,” Brig. Gen. Ed Butler, the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told British ITV news.

He echoed NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones’ call Thursday for at least 2,000 more troops. Gen. Jones, who said the next few weeks would be decisive in the fight against militants, is in Poland pressing officials from the 26 NATO member states for more soldiers and air support.

Yesterday in Warsaw, NATO defense chiefs held their first meeting on Afghanistan since taking over military command of the south of the country, with the violence in the Muslim nation escalating rapidly.

High on the agenda at the talks in the Polish capital was the call by Gen. Jones and other NATO leaders for more troops and equipment for Afghanistan, Canadian Col. Brett Boudreau said.

“But the issue of force levels and contributions will not be an exclusive part of the discussions,” he added.

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