Heating Up In Afghanistan

As the American general heading up NATO forcesissues a plea for help saying they underestimated the strength of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber sets off ahuge explosion near the US embassy in Kabul.

The driver of a car packed with explosives rammed into a U.S. military convoy in downtown Kabul on Friday, killing himself and at least 18 other people, including two American soldiers. Two other American soldiers were among 31 people wounded.

The blast, near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, came as NATO chiefs appealed for member nations to send reinforcements to combat resurgent Taliban militants. A top British general said the fighting in volatile southern Afghanistan was now more ferocious than in Iraq.

The bomb, one the worst in Kabul in recent years, blew pieces of an American Humvee and U.S. uniforms into trees, which were set alight by the explosion. The force of the car bomb shattered windows throughout the downtown area. A plume of brown smoke spiraled hundreds of feet into the sky.

Sixteen Afghans were killed and 29 wounded, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, criminal director of the Kabul police, saying the dead and injured were taken to three Kabul hospitals. The bomber also died. Two American soldiers in the vehicle were killed and two wounded, said U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Tamara Lawrence. The attacker also died.

The bombing came three days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and as Afghans started commemorating the Sept. 9, 2001, assassination of revered anti-Taliban mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Masood.

The blast went off about 50 yards from Kabul’s landmark Massood Square, which leads to the main gate of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound. It left a 6-foot wide crater and left a carnage of body parts, Muslim prayer caps, floppy khaki-colored military hats and shoes.