TWO British contractors were among 17 people killed when a car bomb rammed an armoured bus in Kabul in one of the deadliest insurgent attacks of the ten-year war.
Eyewitnesses said the heavily armoured Rhino bus was thrown sideways by the force of the explosion and instantly engulfed in flames.
At least 13 people on board the bus, including five soldiers and eight civilian contractors, were killed, Nato officials said. Two Afghan policemen and two civilian bystanders were also killed by the blast.
The British contractors were named locally as Stephen Brown, 52, and David Quinn, 34. Both men were electricians, employed by the Texas-based engineering company Fluor. Their bodies were due to be repatriated last night. “The company has notified the families involved,” said Fluor spokesman Keith Stephens. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and loved ones of our co-workers. Right now our focus is helping them.”
The attack on Saturday, which came just 24 hours after a Pentagon report claimed violence was down across Afghanistan, was one the deadliest single incidents for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), excluding air crashes.
The bus was part of a Nato convoy which had just left a training base on the south-western edge of the capital, close to the ruined Darul Aman palace, when a car packed with explosives swerved into its path.
One bystander said the truck was thrown ten metres through the air, landing on its side. A second witness said he saw a badly burned passenger trapped inside the wreckage and choking, while rescuers battled to quell the flames. US troops were later seen climbing over nearby buildings collecting debris from the blast, while smoke still smouldered from the bus’s mangled remains.
About 165 civilian contractors are thought to have died in Afghanistan since 2001, but just six of them were British, and five worked as security guards.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came the same day that a renegade Afghan soldier attacked his Australian military mentors in the south of the country, killing three and wounding several more. In a third attack, in the east of the country, a teenage girl detonated a suicide vest at the gates of the local intelligence agency, killing two guards.
US and Nato officials were discussing plans to hand more of the country over to Afghan security forces at the time of the attacks, as part of their plan to cease combat operations by 2014. A spokesman for the insurgents said they used 1,540 lbs of explosives in the Kabul bomb, to target soldiers training the Afghan police.
A Canadian soldier, Master Corporal Byron Greff, and a Kosovan contractor were among those killed on board the bus, a Nato official told The Scotsman. He said four of the soldiers and the remaining four civilians were American.
“The British Embassy in Kabul can confirm that two British nationals were among those killed in the attack in Kabul on Saturday,” a spokeswoman said. “Their next of kin have been informed.” Underscoring the scale of the attack, president Hamid Karzai took the unusual step of offering his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of those killed.
“Afghan people are grieved by the Nato loss of lives and share the pain and sorrow with the families and friends of the troops killed,” he said, after meeting the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, and the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen. General Allen had earlier said he was “outraged” by the attacks.