KABUL — A Toyota Corolla packed with explosives rammed a pair of US military vehicles in Kabul on Thursday, setting off a blast that killed at least 16 people, including six US military advisers and service members, and shook the relative calm that has prevailed for months in the capital, Afghan officials said.
The explosion rattled windows across Kabul. It left bodies strewn along the street and one of the US vehicles — an armored Chevrolet Suburban that weighed nearly 5 tons — in ruins more than 30 feet from the blast site.
Hezb-i-Islami, a relatively small insurgent faction that often competes with the Taliban for influence, claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded more than three dozen Afghans. Haroon Zarghon, the group’s spokesman, reached by telephone in Pakistan, said the bombing was carried out by a 24-year-old man from south of Kabul.
More attacks against Americans will come soon, Zarghon added, saying that Hezb-i-Islami was dismayed by the current talks between Afghanistan and the United States about a long-term security deal under which thousands of US soldiers could be based in Afghanistan for years.
“When Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan realized that American invaders have the devil intention of staying in Afghanistan, we decided to step up our attack on Americans in Afghanistan,” he said.
Whether Hezb-i-Islami — or the Taliban, for that matter — could regularly strike Americans in Kabul remains to be seen. Thursday’s bombing was the first significant attack in months on a Western target in Kabul, despite repeated efforts by insurgents.
According to Afghan and US officials, the insurgents have found their efforts stymied by the myriad layers of security that protect Kabul, from street-level police officers staffing checkpoints to Afghan and foreign special operations soldiers raiding homes and businesses nearly every night.
The aftermath of Thursday’s bombing, though, provided a gory reminder that war still grips much of Afghanistan and that only so much can be done to keep it from spilling into Kabul, especially when the insurgents easily blend into the population.
The car bomber’s vehicle, a white Corolla, is probably the most commonly seen car in Afghanistan, and the driver shot out of a side street, a fairly standard maneuver on Kabul’s chaotic and crowded roads. It is likely that the Americans who were targeted had little or no time to react once the threat became apparent, if they were able to spot it at all.
The explosion left a deep crater in the road and cracks in the mud-brick shops that line the street. One of the two American Suburbans was reduced to a mangled heap of charred metal, while the other was launched into the air and blown down the street.
Human remains and bits of metal and plastic and other material from the cars were strewn for hundreds of feet around the blast site.
The US-led coalition, in a brief statement, said two service members and four contractors had been killed. It did not specify their nationalities, although Afghan officials said they were all Americans.
Captain Faizullah, an Afghan army commander at the scene, said an Afghan interpreter for the coalition had been killed along with the US advisers. The Americans worked with the intelligence department of the Defense Ministry, which is about half a mile from the scene of the attack, said Faizullah, who like many Afghans uses a single name.
Kanishka Baktash, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the blast also killed nine Afghan civilians.
The attack was one of the deadliest this year against coalition forces. Foreign casualties have dropped sharply in recent months, with Afghan forces taking a greater front-line role and the coalition pulling back ahead of 2014, when NATO’s combat mission here is set to end.
But insurgents appear to have stepped up their targeting of coalition forces in recent days. Three Georgian soldiers were killed this week when a car bomber struck their outpost in Helmand Province, and three Americans were killed the next day by a hidden roadside bomb in Kandahar Province.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both of those attacks.