Afghan villagers gather in a house destroyed in a joint Afghan-NATO operation… (Ihsanullah Majroh, Associated…)
KABUL, Afghanistan — The dusty truck stop in southern Afghanistan, with its surrounding crush of humble, tumbledown shops outside an American-run military base, was every bit as chaotic and oh-just-give-me-your-business in attitude as always.
Logically enough, it was during the busy late morning Wednesday when the attackers chose to strike, with a coolly thought-out plan. A violent initial hit, and then a short wait until rescuers arrived. Pause just until the crush of panicked bystanders had rushed in to help the bloodiest and most helpless of the victims of the first thundering explosion.
And then a second, equally powerful, blast.
That was the scenario that unfolded when one suicide bomber, followed rapidly by a second, attacked a crowded highway rest stop and parking lot for Western-contracted supply trucks backed up outside the Kandahar airfield, NATO's biggest base in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 22 people.
Many people, at that near-noon hour, had reason to be in the vicinity. The area is a bustling market zone on the main road leading south to the Pakistani border, toward the ragged frontier outpost of Spin Buldak.
Elsewhere, Afghan officials said 18 women and children were killed along with about a dozen insurgents in a raid headed by the NATO force outside Kabul, the capital, before dawn Wednesday.
The Western military confirmed the deaths of "multiple insurgents" in the joint Afghan-NATO operation in Lowgar province, but reported no civilian fatalities. It said two women were injured in what a military statement described as a "precision airstrike."
The differing casualty counts could not immediately be reconciled.
Civilian casualties remain an extremely sore point between the Afghan government and foreign forces, even though the United Nations reported a significant decline in injuries and deaths among noncombatants in the first four months of this year.
As a prelude to the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014, Afghan troops now take part in all "night raids" like the one in Lowgar. The Western military often describes such operations as Afghan-led, although officials acknowledge that key responsibilities such as intelligence-gathering, planning, logistics and air support fall to North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops.
The Lowgar police chief, Ghulam Sakhi Roghlewani, said the Lowgar raid targeted Taliban commanders meeting in the Baraki Barak district. The coalition force called in an airstrike after coming under fire, Western and Afghan officials said.
The strike destroyed a walled compound, and Afghan officials cited villagers as saying the bombardment killed 18 women and children who were inside. Police described an additional 12 or 13 dead as insurgents and their commanders.
Special correspondents Aimal Yaqubi and Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.