KABUL, Afghanistan – Homicide bombers rammed cars filled with explosives into NATO peacekeepers in two attacks in the Afghan capital Monday, killing a German soldier and an Afghan child and wounding at least a dozen other people — the first major assault on foreign troops in Kabul in more than a year.
Troops thwarted a suspected third bombing by shooting dead three people in a car racing toward the scene of the blasts. Such seemingly coordinated attacks are unprecedented in Afghanistan and reinforced fears that Taliban insurgents are copying tactics used in Iraq.
The bombings occurred within 90 minutes of each other on a 500-yard stretch of road near the headquarters of Afghan-U.N. election organizers. In each case, the attackers rammed their cars into NATO vehicles.
After the first attack, the body of the German soldier lay on the ground under a crumpled armored Mercedes military vehicle. Troops carried a wounded German soldier to an ambulance on a stretcher. Bits of a Toyota Corolla sedan that the attacker used were strewn across the road.
The blasts underscore the challenges facing the U.S.-backed president, Hamid Karzai, as he struggles to shore up his nation's fledgling democracy. The attacks came two days after officials released results from legislative elections in September, showing a win for Karzai's supporters.
Kabul, home to about 3,000 foreigners and patrolled by thousands of NATO peacekeepers, had been regarded as one of the country's safest places despite a flurry of kidnappings over the past year.
Senior Afghan officials have spoken in recent months of Al Qaeda operatives entering the country to stage assaults, mostly from neighboring Pakistan. In the past two months, there have been eight homicide bombings nationwide, the deadliest in September outside an army training center in Kabul. Previously, such assaults were far less frequent.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Hanif, claimed responsibility for Monday's attacks and warned of more suicide bombings.
"We will fight with every means to defeat the foreign forces," he said by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
Purported Taliban spokesmen often claim responsibility for attacks using information that later proves exaggerated or untrue. Hanif's exact link to the Taliban leadership was not clear.
Germany Defense Minister Peter Struck said the attack showed "there is not a stable, quiet situation in Afghanistan" and that the NATO force is still needed.
"We are dealing with a permanent threat," Struck said in Berlin.
ISAF has about 12,000 soldiers from 36 nations in Afghanistan and is responsible for security in Kabul as well as northern and western regions of the country. A separate 20,000-strong U.S.-led coalition is in volatile eastern and southern parts of the country.
While 86 U.S. troops have been killed this year, 24 ISAF soldiers have died, 17 of them Spanish military personnel killed when their helicopter crashed in an accident.
The first explosion Monday wounded two German soldiers in addition to killing the third, said Capt. Michele Chortese, spokesman for the NATO-led force, known as the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. Five Afghans, including two police officers, were also wounded, he said.
The second bombing set fire to a Greek military jeep and wounded three ISAF troops, said Maj. Andrew Elmes, another ISAF spokesman. In Athens, a Greek defense ministry spokesman said two Greek soldiers were slightly wounded.
Afghan state television showed pictures of a peacekeeper carrying an Afghan man whose legs had been blown off toward an ambulance. Another man lay motionless on the ground, naked and covered in blood. Two Afghan journalists working for the U.S.-sponsored Radio Liberty were slightly wounded in the blast, said Nada Farat, one of their colleagues at the station.
Elmes said an Afghan child was killed in one of the bombings, but he did not give further details.
Police stopped a vehicle carrying three men near the area, but the driver suddenly accelerated toward British troops nearby. The soldiers quickly opened fire, killing the three.
The vehicle then careered off the road and stopped. Security forces cordoned off the area fearing the car would explode. A local police commander, Pashtun, who uses only one name, said the troops had believed the car was laden with explosives. He said authorities were investigating.
The last major attack on the peacekeepers in the capital was in October 2004, when a militant detonated grenades strapped to his body on a shopping street, wounding three Icelandic security personnel and killing an American translator and an Afghan girl.
That came two months after a car bomb tore through the office of a U.S. contractor providing security for Karzai, killing 10 people. The Taliban claimed responsibility.