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Suicide truck bombing kills 14 Afghan schoolchildren, US says

Deadly explosion recorded by US military camera

An Afghan police officer wounded in the blast walked at the site of the suicide attack in Khost province. An Afghan police officer wounded in the blast walked at the site of the suicide attack in Khost province. (Associated Press Photo / Nashanuddin Khan)
By Jason Straziuso and Amir Shah
Associated Press / December 29, 2008
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KABUL, Afghanistan - A single-file line of school children walked past a military checkpoint yesterday as a bomb-loaded truck veered toward them and exploded, killing 14 young Afghans in a flash captured by a US military security camera.

The video shows a sport utility vehicle slowly weaving through sandbag barriers at a military checkpoint just as a line of schoolchildren, most wearing white caps, comes into view. They walk along a pathway between the street and a wall, several of them pausing for a few seconds in a group before moving forward again. The vehicle moves toward the security camera while the children walk in the opposite direction, nearly passing the SUV when the footage ends in a fiery blast.

Photos of the bombing's aftermath showed bloodied textbooks lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. Afghan officials said the children were attending a final day of class for the year to find out whether they would move up to the next grade.

Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were ages 8 to 10.

The US military said the attack in the eastern province of Khost killed 16 people, including 14 children, an Afghan soldier and another person, probably a private security guard that Afghan officials reported killed. The United States said 58 people were wounded.

In an angry condemnation of the attack, President Hamid Karzai said those that carried it out "cannot escape the revenge of Afghans and God's punishment."

The UN mission in Afghanistan and the NATO-led force also strongly condemned the attack.

The blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of Khost. US troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.

US General David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he believes the militant network run by warlord Siraj Haqqani was responsible for the attack.

"The brutality and disregard for human life by terrorists is sickening, as I continue to witness innocent men, women and children being killed and maimed in the pursuit of this pointless insurgency," McKiernan said.

Afghan officials offered a slightly lower death toll. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Kabul, said eight people in total died and 51 were wounded. Khan said he believed that only five schoolchildren had died.

It wasn't possible to reconcile the differing death tolls, though the US military video seemed to support the likelihood of the higher toll.

Khan said the attack came as Pashtun tribal elders from Mandozai District were meeting inside the compound to discuss security issues. It was not immediately clear how many, if any, of those tribal leaders were wounded or killed. Khan said it was possible they were the target but that there was no way for him to know for sure.

The attack occurred on the last day of school for the year. Students had gathered in the classrooms to receive end-of-year certificates and learn if they had passed on to the next grade, said Asif Nang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

A UN spokesman said the UN mission in Afghanistan was "appalled" at the suicide attack.

"The deaths of young children who were receiving their end-of-year education certificates are particularly galling," said Dan McNorton.

The blast in Khost Province came only hours after a late-night rocket attack in Kabul on Saturday killed three teenage sisters. McNorton said that attack "also reminds us of the true impact this conflict has on those who play no part in it."

Violence has spiked across Afghanistan the last two years, and the US plans to send between 20,000 and 30,000 troops to Afghanistan over the next six months to reinforce the 32,000 US forces already in the country.

More than 6,100 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials. The year has also been the deadliest for NATO soldiers since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban.

In the south, a roadside bomb killed two Canadian soldiers and two Afghans working alongside them in a dangerous region of southern Afghanistan, Canada's military said yesterday.

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