South Asia

Afghanistan: Suicide attack kills 13 foreign personnel

A Taliban suicide bomber has rammed an explosives-laden car into a bus carrying members of the International Security Assistance Force in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing 17 people.

The US said initially that the Isaf personnel - eight civilians and five soldiers - were all American.

But Canada later said one of its soldiers had died, and on Sunday the UK said two of its personnel perished.

Three Afghan civilians and a police officer also died in the blast.

Correspondents say it was one of the worst ground attacks against foreign troops since 2001, and that such attacks are rare in heavily-fortified Kabul.

Separately, three Australian soldiers were killed by a man in Afghan army uniform. Nato said the gunman was also killed in that attack in the south of the country.

And a teenage girl carried out a suicide attack on a building of the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, in the eastern province of Kunar, killing herself and wounding several NDS personnel.

Fewer attacks have hit Kabul this year, compared to 2010.

But the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which is linked to it, have still been able to penetrate the city's defences.

In September, the Haqqani network launched an attack on the American embassy and Isaf headquarters which lasted 20 hours.

Vehicles burning

The attack happened near Darulaman Palace, the bombed-out seat of Afghanistan's former kings on the south-west outskirts of the capital.

The suicide attacker, driving a four-wheel drive vehicle, detonated the bomb just as the bus was passing at 11:20 (06:50 GMT). The armoured bus was blown over by the force of the explosion.

Nato helicopters were seen taking away casualties.

"It was a very strong bomb," said one eyewitness, Gulam Saki.

Thick black smoke rose from the scene - and some distance away there were shattered windows and scattered pieces of twisted metal, suggesting the blast had been massive.

"A suicide car bomb attack was carried out on a bus of foreign forces in the Darulaman area of Kabul," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a text message to AFP news agency.

The Canadian death is the first since Canadian combat operations ended earlier this year.

The attack was the deadliest incident since the Taliban shot down a US helicopter in August, killing 30 US special forces.

Isaf commander Gen John R. Allen, said he was "saddened and outraged".

"The enemies of peace are not martyrs, but murderers," Gen Allen said.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in today's attacks," Gen. Allen added. "Their sacrifices will be honoured and the enemy will be held to account."

There has been an increase in militant attacks across Afghanistan in recent months, despite the presence of more than 130,000 foreign troops.

But this was a very significant attack, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul. It is rare for so many servicemen to die in a single incident, our correspondent says.

On Thursday the Taliban said it was behind an attack on a compound housing Western officials and military personnel in the city of Kandahar. The attack was repelled after a lengthy battle.

The US is planning to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and hand over security to local forces by 2014.