In another burst of preelection violence, a suicide car bomber targeted a Western military convoy Tuesday in Afghanistan's capital, killing at least 10 people, including a soldier with the NATO-led force and two Afghan employees of the United Nations.
More chaos broke out today, the eve of the presidential vote, when a gang of armed men took over a major bank in the heart of Kabul and got into a shootout with police. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks, and the increasing tempo of violence so alarmed government officials that they banned reporting by Afghan news media of violent events during polling hours Thursday.
Human rights groups denounced the order, saying people had a right to information that would help them decide whether it was safe to cast a ballot.
The heightened violence has affected security forces and civilians alike. Two U.S. soldiers died Tuesday in a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan, bringing the number of American military deaths in the country this month to at least 26, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
The car bombing, the second major strike by insurgents in four days in Kabul, took place on the busy main road leading east out of the capital toward the city of Jalalabad. There is a British military base near the site of the attack.
Even though the bomber was apparently aiming at NATO-force military vehicles, most of the casualties appeared to have been civilians.
The slain soldier's nationality was not immediately disclosed. The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said that in addition to two of its civilian workers being killed, a third was injured.
Violence has been increasing in advance of Thursday's voting for president and provincial assemblies. Taliban commanders have warned people not to vote and have threatened to attack polling places.
On Saturday, a car bomb exploded outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's main base in the capital. Seven people were killed.
Earlier Tuesday, insurgents lobbed mortar shells into the capital, and two rounds fell near the presidential palace but caused no injuries or serious damage.
This month, a volley of rockets fell in the city, some striking near the U.S. Embassy and an Afghan government ministry building.
The toll in the latest car bombing could rise. Hours after the blast, searchers were still digging through the rubble of several homes nearby. About a dozen vehicles were wrecked as well.
Security around the capital has been tightened as the election approaches, but officials acknowledge that little can be done on a busy thoroughfare such as the Jalalabad road.
A military spokesman, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Shanks, called the car bombing an "indiscriminate attack on both the people of Afghanistan and our forces who are working . . . to protect them" as the nationwide vote approaches.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, seeking a second five-year term, faces a field of 30 challengers.
Karzai is expected to be the top vote-getter, but collectively, his rivals could deprive him of the absolute majority he would need to win Thursday's vote. If that happens, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates in October.