Seven Children Killed in Afghan Rocket Blast

A rocket slammed into a packed school yard Tuesday near a U.S.-led coalition base in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven children and wounding 34 other people.

Police blamed Taliban militants for the explosion at the Salabagh School in Asadabad, about 105 miles northeast of Kabul, in volatile Kunar province near the Pakistani border.

Another rocket exploded as parents rushed to the scene but it hit an open field and caused no casualties, said local police commander Mohammed Hasan.

It was unclear if the intended target was the school or the coalition base that has frequently come under attack. Coalition helicopters patrolled the area after the attack.

Hasan blamed the militants for targeting the school as part of a campaign against government-sponsored education.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, denied involvement in the attack. "We do not kill innocent children. This is not our work," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The wounded, including at least one teacher and the school janitor, were rushed to a hospital at the base, Hasan said. Some were flown for treatment to Bagram, the U.S. military headquarters north of Kabul.

"This despicable act clearly demonstrates the enemy's complete disregard for the Afghan people," U.S. military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley said in a statement. "The Afghan National Army and coalition forces will hunt down these terrorists and ensure they're held responsible."

Hundreds of boys ages 6 to 16 were in the school at the time of the attack, Hasan said.

One witness, 12-year-old student Omar Sahib, described a scene of horror.

"I saw so many children on the ground. Many were not moving. Screams were coming from everywhere. I was crying," he told the AP. "One teacher was lying there without a leg."

Militants in Kunar regularly attack the nearby coalition base with rockets, but they rarely hit. Asadabad sits at the bottom of a steep river valley and is surrounded by rugged mountains.

Dozens of schools have been attacked and many burned since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering terror leader Usama bin Laden. Most of the attacks have come at night and not caused fatalities.

But in January, a school headmaster was beheaded in front of his family after refusing to close his school. In October, gunmen shot and killed another principal in front of his students.

The Taliban claim that educating girls is against Islam and they even oppose government-funded schools for boys because they teach subjects besides religion.

The past year has seen a surge in violence in Afghanistan, with militants from the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other groups stepping up attacks on government-linked targets and U.S.-led coalition forces.