PULI ALAM, Afghanistan — A powerful suicide truck bomb exploded at a NATO military base south of the Afghan capital Tuesday, wounding three soldiers and at least 17 civilians, Afghan police said.
Just hours earlier, a Taliban bomb killed nine people and wounded five when it struck a minibus on the western outskirts of Kabul, amid growing unrest in areas neighbouring the Afghan capital.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed "there has been an explosion outside an ISAF facility in Logar province" and that some troops were wounded.
"We have information that ISAF members were wounded but it is our policy not to confirm the number or condition of the injured," he said, adding that the cause of the explosion was under investigation.
Provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Lewanai told AFP: "A truck loaded with explosives detonated at the coalition forces' camp in (the provincial capital) Puli Alam city.
"So far we have information that 17 Afghan civilians and three ISAF soldiers have been injured," he said.
Most of the civilians worked at the base, he said. ISAF said the explosion was outside the base, near an Afghan bazaar.
An AFP reporter at the scene said the area near the base had been cordoned off by NATO forces and helicopters were flying overhead.
Although the first two checkpoints on the approach to the base were visible there was no sign of an explosion, he said, adding that police and residents told him that the blast happened further on towards the base.
"I was on my way to school when there was suddenly a huge explosion which knocked me down," said schoolboy Samiullah.
"I saw thick smoke and flames rising from the inside of this camp."
Provincial spokesman Din Mohammad Darwish said: "The explosives had been hidden inside a truck used for transporting and mixing cement. It happened at the gate of the base."
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) south of the capital Kabul.
"At around 9:00 am one of our mujahideen (holy warriors) carried out a suicide truck bomb attack on a big US forces' camp resulting in many deaths and injuries," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a text message.
In an earlier sign of increasing Taliban activity in Logar province, three Afghans who worked for NATO were kidnapped by the Taliban and their bodies dumped in the main bazaar of Charkh district last week, officials said.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack on the minibus near the capital, saying nine people had been killed, updating an earlier toll of eight.
"Terrorists who plant roadside bombs on public routes during the holy month of Ramadan, targeting and killing innocent Muslim civilians, are definitely neither Muslims nor Afghans," he said.
All the dead were men, apparently on their way to work from what had been a relatively peaceful area on the western outskirts of the city.
But in the same district in late June, militants armed with guns and rockets attacked a popular lakeside hotel killing at least 18 people.
The man who set off the bomb had been captured with the cooperation of local residents who beat him up, police said, describing him as a member of the hardline Islamist Taliban waging an insurgency against the Afghan government.
For the past five years the number of civilians killed in the war has risen steadily, reaching a record 3,021 in 2011, with the vast majority of the deaths blamed on insurgents, according to UN figures.
The latest attacks will add to growing concerns over the country's future once NATO troops withdraw as planned by the end of 2014, handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.
Western politicians keen to get their troops out of an increasingly unpopular war regularly talk up the ability of the Afghan army and police to cope on their own, but there is widespread fear of a multi-factional civil war once they leave.
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