KABUL, Afghanistan – A car bomb possibly targeting a convoy of coalition troops killed three people in the capital Sunday, while one French and 16 Afghan soldiers were killed and about 40 other troops wounded in two firefights in southern Afghanistan, officials said.
The country's foreign minister, meanwhile, claimed that Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan and coordinating terrorist strikes in Afghanistan from there — the latest barb between the neighbors who are both U.S. allies in the War on Terror.
The car bomb exploded on a busy road that links several bases belonging to the U.S.-led coalition and a separate NATO-led peacekeeping force, killing the driver of the car and two civilians, said local deputy police chief Maj. Pashtun Khan.
The Interior Ministry's press office said the car bomb was a homicide attack, but Gen. Mahboubullah Amiri, the commander of the rapid reaction forces for the Interior Ministry, said on the scene of the explosion that he thought the driver didn't know the explosives were in his car. There was no indication of a passenger in the taxi.
Amiri said he believed the bomb was exploded prematurely by remote control.
A man walking along the side of the road and the driver of a small truck next to the explosion were killed, the Interior Ministry said. The driver of the car, a taxi, also died. At least two people were injured.
The explosion set fire to the truck and a couple of roadside stalls.
A man who owns a shop near the explosion, Hatiquallah, said he saw a convoy of coalition troops passing by when the bomb went off. Officials said no coalition troops were hurt or vehicles damaged. Hatiquallah, who goes by one name, had minor shrapnel wounds from the blast.
In the south, in Helmand province, one French soldier was killed and a French and an American soldier were injured during a gunfight on Saturday, said Capt. Drew Gibson, a spokesman for the British military.
Twenty-five Afghan soldiers were also injured, said Sgt. Chris Miller, a coalition spokesman. There were no immediate reports of militant casualties, he said.
In total, three French soldiers were killed on Saturday. The French Defense Ministry earlier announced the deaths of two special forces troops killed in neighboring Kandahar province.
In a second battle in Helmand province Saturday, 13 Afghan soldiers were killed and 15 injured in an eight-hour battle, said Gen. Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman. He said at least nine Taliban militants were killed during the eight-hour battle.
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told a news conference that "the leadership of the Taliban and other terror groups are living in Pakistan."
The comments came after some of the deadliest violence here since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Some 120 people were killed in a 24-hour storm of violence Wednesday and Thursday.
Asked if the rebel commanders were coordinating attacks inside Afghanistan from there, Spanta said: "Exactly, that is the case.
"The movement and the communication during these terrorist attacks is from the other side" of the frontier, he said.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao contested the allegation.
"We deny the Taliban leaders are here," he said. "These kind of allegations will not help relations" between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghan-Pakistan relations soured earlier this year amid Kabul's accusations that Pakistan was doing too little to stop Taliban and Al Qaeda militants hiding on its side of the border from crossing into Afghanistan to attack Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long border where Afghan and U.S. officials say elements of the ousted Taliban regime are hiding. Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden is also believed to be hiding in the mountainous region.
Spanta's comments came three days after President Hamid Karzai claimed Pakistani students were being taught to go to Afghanistan to burn down schools or medical clinics.
Militants associated with the ousted Taliban regime have been increasingly using suicide car bombs and roadside bombs in their attacks against coalition forces here. Attacks have been on the rise the past several months, particularly in the country's southern and eastern regions near the border with Pakistan.