Afghan terror hits front page —at last!

Now, why should this story make the front page of the New York Times Sept. 9—above the fold, no less? Because the attack was near the US embassy? This is but the latest, and not even the deadliest, in a wave of such attacks in recent months—which have all been buried in the inner pages.

Suicide Bomber Kills 16 in Kabul Near Embassy

KABUL — A suicide bomber smashed his car into an American military vehicle just yards from the United States Embassy in downtown Kabul on Friday morning, killing as many as 16 people and wounding 29, Afghan and American officials said.

The bombing was one of the most powerful to shake the capital since American forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001. The United States military issued a statement confirming the deaths of two American soldiers and said two others were wounded.

The Afghan police at the scene put the death toll at 11 civilians and 5 American soldiers. Witnesses said they saw three American soldiers lying in the street. Other soldiers might also have been killed, they said, as the blast ripped apart the armored Humvee, making it hard to believe that anyone inside could have survived.

Soldiers later pulled shredded American uniforms off the trees and picked up body parts. A seat from the Humvee was left hanging in a tree.

Kabul residents said they were bracing for still more violence as they prepared to observe the fifth anniversary on Saturday of the death of the warlord Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed by two suicide bombers from Al Qaeda in an assassination linked to the 9/11 attacks.

The Kabul bombing came amid a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan, where NATO and American military commanders are waging an offensive to crush a Taliban insurgency that has revived with unexpected strength this year.

Suicide bombers have struck more than 50 times in the last year, killing more than 100 civilians. Most often the attacks have been in the south, where the insurgency thrives.

That fighting against the insurgents continued Friday. A NATO soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a roadside attack in southwestern Afghanistan, where American troops are deployed, and another suicide bomber threw himself at a NATO convoy in Kandahar Province but killed only himself.

Heavy fighting also raged in a strategic area west of the city of Kandahar, where Canadian troops are locked in fierce battles with Taliban insurgents.

NATO defense chiefs, meeting in Warsaw on Friday, discussed raising still more troops for Afghanistan, which has become the largest and most serious combat mission in the alliance’s 57-year history.

On Thursday, the Atlantic alliance’s top commander of operations, Gen. James L. Jones of the United States, said that he had asked for 2,000 to 2,500 people on top of the roughly 18,500 soldiers NATO has already deployed in Afghanistan, and that he had called for more helicopters and transport aircraft.

But he said in an interview that alliance members had so far failed to provide equipment and troops pledged months ago, adding that he had asked them to “make good” on the promises and that he could not understand why NATO countries were delaying when their forces were facing sustained combat.

“I am asking for the forces we asked for 18 months ago,” General Jones said. “It is not that we are making new demands. We have generated about 85 percent of the force that is required. In view of the hostilities that are going on, especially in the southern region, the commander on the ground said if he had the full kit he would be in very, very good shape.”

The commander he referred to was the senior alliance officer, Lt. Gen. David Richards of Britain, who said Wednesday that after just six weeks in charge of the NATO force in the south, he felt the tide was turning against the Taliban, despite having lost 28 soldiers since Aug. 1.

“People are dying,” General Jones added. “Soldiers are fighting, and so 85 percent in a peaceful situation may be O.K., but in a situation involving combat, that is another matter.”

Asked which of the 26 countries in the alliance were dragging their feet, General Jones hesitated and then replied, “All of them.”

During the weeks leading to NATO’s deployment in the south, General Jones had repeatedly warned that the alliance would face strong resistance from insurgents and drug lords. “For the first time, their power is being challenged, and they will do everything possible to intimidate the NATO forces,” he said.

In the capital, the soldiers killed in the blast were part of a provincial team whose work is to provide reconstruction and assistance to local communities, building roads and schools and supplying electricity, a United States military statement said.

The blast strewed blackened wreckage and shrapnel across the tree-lined central divide of the avenue and blew out windows in surrounding apartment buildings. The police were gathering pieces of flesh in buckets as firefighters hosed down the road and a burning vehicle.

An elderly woman sitting outside her home was hit by shrapnel in the chest and died instantly, witnesses said. A boy selling baseball caps on the street and another boy with a secondhand clothing stall were killed, said Abdul Zarif, 18, a shopkeeper. “Another stall owner was wounded and was screaming as his younger brother was also dead,” he said.

A baker, Ghulam Hazrat, 40, was thrown across to the back of the bakery by the blast. “We were lost for minutes under the dust and smoke and finally we climbed out of the bakery, and I saw the smoke and flames from an American car burning, and a lot of bodies on the other side of the road,” he said.

A number of those killed were city workers sweeping the streets. Many people in nearby apartments were wounded by flying glass, hospital officials said.

At the nearby hospital, Sakhi Muhammad, 35, was in tears as he found the body of his nephew, a municipal worker, and cursed the government of President Hamid Karzai. “God destroy you with your government,” he shouted.

Another man, Turialai, collected the body of his newly married brother Hayatullah, 35, who had been a passer-by. Turialai telephoned someone to start preparing the funeral.

Suicide bombing was very rare in Afghanistan until last fall, when attacks suddenly escalated and spokesmen for the Taliban claimed to have trained hundreds of bombers to send in against the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies.

As of Aug. 12, suicide bombers had killed 124 people in Afghanistan this year. Of those, 105 — 84 percent — were civilians, according to United States military figures released in a statement in Kabul last month.

See our last post on Afghanistan.