Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — A suicide car bomber struck a Western convoy on a busy road in the Afghan capital Tuesday, setting off a powerful blast that killed at least 18 people, including five American service members and a foreign soldier whose nationality was not immediately disclosed.
The explosion, which occurred at 8 a.m. when many people were on their way to work, carved a deep crater in the road near a ruined imperial palace on the city's western edge, overturning cars and scattering shrapnel over a wide area. The blast reverberated across much of Kabul.
The vehicles in the convoy were armored SUVs, which are often used to transport military officers and diplomats around the city. One was flipped by the force of the explosion and the one behind it was reduced to a scorched, shattered hulk. U.S. troops quickly secured the site, evacuated the wounded and inspected the wreckage.
NATO and the U.S. Embassy condemned the attack, which -- like many bombings targeting convoys or military installations -- killed mainly noncombatants. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry described 12 of the dead as "innocent civilians" and said nearly 50 other people, mainly passers-by, were hurt.
"This sort of desperate brutality and aggression reminds us of the pessimism of an enemy who seek to kill the innocent and stop the progress necessary for a better Afghanistan," NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, which marked the first major attack in the capital since February, when assailants killed 16 people at two small guesthouses in the city center. Security was tightened in the wake of that incident, but bombers routinely penetrate even the most heavily guarded precincts of the capital.
The strike also came shortly before President Hamid Karzai held a news conference in which he portrayed his trip last week to the United States as an opportunity to press the Obama administration to reduce Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting between Western troops and insurgents. The trip followed months of tensions between the U.S. administration and Karzai's own.
Tuesday's attack left many residents of the capital feeling rattled and insecure. Afghans often complain that the government is not capable of preventing insurgent strikes in the heart of Kabul, although police often tout the breaking up of suicide cells and the captures of other would-be attackers.