An attack on a U.S. military convoy Thursday that killed at least eight Afghan bystanders along with a U.S. soldier pointed up one of the conflict's grimmest patterns: civilians being caught up almost daily in insurgent attacks aimed at foreign troops.
Western military officials blame Taliban-led militants for deliberately causing hundreds of such deaths this year.
The explosion in a market outside the city of Jalalabad injured scores of Afghans and more than a dozen U.S. soldiers, and it left behind a scene of carnage. Terrified animals bleated, clouds of smoke and dust billowed, and traders screamed for someone to help the wounded. Several vehicles, including flimsy motorized rickshaws often used for transport in Afghan towns and cities, were incinerated in the explosion. Clothes and shoes lay scattered in the dirt.
Even hours after the attack in the Bati Kot district, reports about the number of casualties were contradictory. A spokesman for the U.S. military, which helped treat the wounded, initially put the number of Afghan dead at 20. The governor of Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sharzia, later said eight civilians were confirmed dead and more than 60 hurt. Some of the victims were taken to different hospitals and clinics, further confusing the casualty count.
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A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, did not specify the nationality of the dead soldier, in keeping with coalition rules about waiting for notification of kin. But provincial officials identified the man killed as an American.
U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan this year are running at their highest levels since the start of the war, which is now in its eighth year. About one-quarter of the 627 Americans killed in the conflict so far died this year, according to the independent Web site icasualties.org.
Much of the violence is concentrated in Afghanistan's south, the Taliban's former heartland, and the east, which is vulnerable to the infiltration of fighters from the tribal belt across the border in Pakistan, where a parallel insurgency is gathering force.
In Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan's troubled northwest, officials said an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped Thursday and a Pakistani bodyguard was killed. Gunmen grabbed Hesmatollah Attarzadeh, commercial counselor at the Iranian consulate, as he was leaving his home in the well-off suburb of Hyatabad.