A bomb blast tore through a crowded passenger bus on a desert highway in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 25 of those on board and injuring about 20 others, some seriously, government officials said. All were described as civilians.
Afghan and Western officials denounced the insurgency for the planting of homemade bombs along roads heavily used by civilians. So-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are usually aimed at Afghan and NATO forces, but often wind up maiming and killing noncombatants instead.
Some 7,000 Afghan civilians were killed by IEDs from 2004 to 2009, according to classified military documents posted on the Internet this week by the advocacy group WikiLeaks.
The bus, whose passengers included women and children, was traveling on a main road in Nimroz province, bound for the capital, Kabul, when it struck the buried bomb. Many Afghans cannot afford cars and are reliant on poorly maintained, jam-packed passenger buses and minivans, especially for travel between major cities.
A NATO patrol came upon the charred, shattered bus and helped treat the wounded, Western military officials said.
The blast took place near the border with volatile Helmand province, which has seen heavy fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban. Military officials on Wednesday reported the death of an American service member in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan a day earlier.
June was the deadliest month of the nine-year war for American troops, and July looked set to equal or surpass that record. Most of the U.S. forces arriving as part of the 30,000-strong “surge” ordered by President Obama late last year are being sent to the south, the traditional Taliban heartland.
NATO officials say Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar recently rescinded orders given to his fighters last summer to try to avoid hurting or killing civilians. In recent months, the insurgents have embarked on a campaign to kill or intimidate government workers and others perceived as complicit with the foreign forces.
A spokesman for the NATO force, Col. Rafael Torres, called the bus explosion a “tragic murder of Afghan civilians.”
The district chief in Dellaram, where the blast took place, said the road was one of the most IED-laden in the country. He said Afghan authorities had already decided a police checkpoint was needed in the area, but were still awaiting police to man it.
“This is a sign of weakness, that the Taliban are placing IEDs that kill innocents,” said the chief, Assadullah Jan. “They want to demoralize the people.”