A truck filled with explosives that police believe may have been destined for Kabul blew up on a highway Thursday, killing 25 people — more than half of them children walking to school.
Two American soldiers died in combat as the U.S. military reported the number of roadside bombs in Afghanistan last month was nearly three times the figure for Iraq.
The attacks served as a grim reminder that the bloody conflict is widening, even as thousands of U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan to try to turn the tide against the Taliban-led insurgency, which has made a comeback after the Islamic extremist movement was ousted from power in 2001.
The blast occurred about 7 a.m. as police were trying to clear a traffic jam on a highway in Logar province after the truck, which was loaded with timber, had overturned the night before. Suddenly, explosives hidden beneath the timber detonated, killing 21 civilians and four policemen, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said.
At least 13 of the dead were children on their way to school, provincial official Kamaluddin Zadran said. Three children were missing, he added.
It was unclear why the explosives detonated. Provincial police chief Mustafa Khan said the truck overturned late Wednesday as it traveled on the main road from Logar to Kabul and militants detonated it remotely when police tried to clear the way.
However, another police official said investigators were looking into the possibility that militants were trying to smuggle explosives into Kabul and the explosives detonated accidentally. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release information to media.
Kabul, the headquarters of the Afghan government where most international missions are based, is heavily guarded and has been largely spared from the violence that has rocked Baghdad for years. But rumors have been circulating that the Taliban were planning attacks in the capital ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential election.
NATO soldiers killed
Meanwhile, two NATO soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, the military alliance said in a statement. The statement, issued Thursday, did not identify the location of the blast or the nationalities of the victims.
NATO forces in the south include U.S. Marines engaged in a major anti-Taliban offensive in Helmand province. Troops from Britain, Canada and other nations also fight under the alliance's command in the volatile region.
In the southern province of Zabul, Afghan and coalition troops battled Taliban militants who attacked a government center in Suri district early Thursday. Fifteen insurgents were killed and another was detained, said provincial police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang.
No casualties were sustained among Afghan and foreign troops, Sarjang said.
Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency. The hard-line Islamist militia has made a violent comeback in recent years since the 2001 U.S. invasion.
More on Afghanistan