KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle packed with explosives into a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol Monday, killing 14 people including three Americans in the latest attack on an increasingly fraught program to help Afghan forces take over security so foreign troops can withdraw from the country over the next two years.
The attack followed more American casualties over the weekend that pushed the U.S. military's death toll for the 11-year-war to more than 2,000 — a figure that has climbed steadily in recent months as attacks on the so-called "partnering" initiative have risen.
Joint patrols between NATO and Afghan forces, like the one targeted Monday, have been limited following a tide of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police on their international allies. Last month, the U.S. military issued new orders that require units to get approval from superiors before conducting operations with Afghans. Two weeks later, U.S. officials said most missions were being conducted with Afghans again, though the system of approvals remained in place.
In the latest attack, the bomber struck the mixed police and military patrol shortly after they got out of their vehicles to walk through a market area in the eastern city of Khost.
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In addition to three Americans and their translator, six civilians and four police officers were killed in the explosion, provincial government spokesman Baryalai Wakman said. The police officers were part of a specialized quick-reaction force, he added.
Blood could be seen on the market road as Afghan police and soldiers tried to clean up the area after the blast. Slippers and bicycle parts were strewn about.
Coalition spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack would confirm only that three NATO service members and their translator died in a bombing in the country's east, without giving an exact location or the nationalities of the dead.
The international military alliance usually waits for individual nations to announce details on deaths. Most of the troops in the east and in Khost province are American. The translator was an Afghan citizen, Wojack said.
More than 60 Afghan civilians were also wounded in the bombing, the governor's office said in a statement. The city's hospital alone was treating about 30 people, said Dr. Amir Pacha, a physician working there. He added there could be other victims being treated at nearby private clinics.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in text messages to media that the insurgent group was behind the attack.
Shift in expectations
With the surge of U.S. troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, U.S. generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.
The once ambitious U.S. plans for ending the war are being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement.
Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.