May 18, 2010 Suicide Bomber Hits U.S. Convoy in Afghanistan By DEXTER FILKINS KABUL, Afghanistan — A man driving a Toyota minivan crammed with explosives steered into an American convoy Tuesday morning here, killing 18 people, including five American soldiers and one from Canada. At least 47 people were wounded, nearly all of them civilians caught in rush-hour traffic. The blast sent a fireball billowing into the air, set cars aflame and blew bodies apart. Limbs and entrails flew hundreds of feet, littering yards and walls and streets. The survivors, many of them women and children, some of them missing limbs, lay in the road moaning and calling for help. In a passenger bus, an Afghan woman lay dead in her seat, cut in half; with her baby still squirming in her arms. Fifty yards away, a man’s head lay on the hood of a truck. “I just dove on the ground to try to save myself,” said Mahfouz Mahmoodi, an Afghan police officer. “And then I got up, and I saw the terrible scene.” The assault demonstrated anew that the Taliban can still strike the capital — if not every day, then with regularity. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in a posting on its Web site, saying the group had dispatched a young man named Nizamuddin, a resident of Kabul. The Taliban said that Nizamuddin carried more than 1,600 pounds of explosives in his van. It seemed likely that the driver had cruised the city for some time looking for a target, holding off on his detonator before finally finding his target. Intelligence agencies often receive word that suicide and car bombers have entered the city with plans to attack, and some of them with no particular target in mind. While the Taliban was quick to congratulate itself for killing the American and NATO soldiers, its statement made no mention of the dead and wounded Afghan civilians. The attack was condemned by the United Nations, NATO and the American Embassy, which accused the Taliban of “callous disregard” for the lives of ordinary Afghans. It was the worst attack in Kabul in weeks. The insurgency is a largely rural phenomenon in a largely rural country, and on most days the capital is quiet. The peace in the city, such as there is, is kept almost entirely by Afghan police and army, with the Americans and NATO standing back. The attack came shortly before President Hamid Karzai prepared to speak to reporters at the presidential palace, having just returned from meeting President Obama in Washington. The Karzai government is preparing, with the Americans and their NATO allies, to launch a major offensive around the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home. That offensive, aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold on southern Afghanistan, is seen as the most crucial operation of the nine-year war. Afghan and American officials have warned recently that they expect the Taliban to try to counter the offensive in any way that they can. The bomber struck at 8 a.m., when the streets were filled with traffic. The American convoy, which contained a number of armored S.U.V.s, was moving down Dar-ul-Aman Road in the southern edge of the city. The road leads up a hill to the Afghan Counter-Insurgency Academy, one of the principal centers for teaching tactics to Afghan officers and enlisted men. The school, known as the COIN Academy, sits just behind the Dar-ul-Aman Palace, a grand building built by King Amonullah, an Afghan monarch, early in the 20th century. In the 1980s, the building served as the headquarters for the Soviet military. It still sits atop the barren hill, riddled with bullet and holes, a gutted husk. The explosion sent a plume of fire into the air and ignited the cars and buses all around. As the chaos unfolded, ambulances converged on the scene, and a pair of Blackhawk helicopters swooped in to take away the dead and wounded NATO soldiers. “People were calling, ‘Help me, help me,’ “ said Yusuf Tahiri, an ambulance driver who carried off six dead and two wounded Afghans. “There were body parts everywhere.” As Mr. Tahiri spoke, an Afghan soldier appeared carrying a large red trash bag. It was, he said, filled with human brains. “What do you want me to do this with this,” he asked. “Do you want me to bury it, or do you want to take it?” The driver nodded, and the soldier walked around to the back of the ambulance and tossed the bag in the back. “I have seen so many of these — so many,” said Mr. Tahiri, the driver, shaking his head. The blast also flung people and wreckage over into the courtyard of a veterinary clinic of Kabul University. With the mayhem still unfolding, two Afghans, both of them guards at the clinic, sat on the curb and talked. “I saw something just like this 10 years ago,” Mohammed Hussein said to his friend. “A rocket landed next to my house. Just like this.” His friend, Abdul Hafiz, gave a weary nod. “It was very dangerous, very horrible,” he said. Sangar Rahmi and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.