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7 American troops die in separate attacks in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near a U.S. convoy yesterday, killing 18 people, including six troops, five Americans and a Canadian, in the deadliest attack on NATO in the Afghan capital in eight months.

Two other American service members were killed in separate attacks in the south, making it the deadliest day of the year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It brought the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since the war began in 2001 to at least 994, according to an Associated Press count. Other sources put the toll to date at 1,000.

Col. Geoff Parker, 42, was the highest-ranking member of the Canadian Forces to die in Afghanistan since the Canadian mission began in 2002, the country's military said.

Twelve Afghan civilians also died, many of them on a bus in rush-hour traffic along a major thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. At least 47 people were wounded, the Interior Ministry said.

It was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since February and followed a Taliban announcement of a spring offensive even as the United States gears up for a major push to restore order in the turbulent south.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the blast, telling The Associated Press in a telephone call that the bomber was a man from Kabul and that the vehicle was packed with 1,650 pounds of explosives.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, which he said killed women and children.

The explosion, which thundered across the capital, happened about 8 a.m. as streets were packed with cars, buses and trucks. The bomb ripped vehicles apart and hurled body parts along the street.

Police officer Wahidullah, who goes by one name, said he saw the body of a woman in a pale blue burqa smashed up against the window of the bus.

U.S. forces spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said five American service members were killed in the blast, the heaviest loss of life for NATO in a single attack in the capital since Sept. 17, when a suicide car bomber killed six Italian soldiers. For U.S. forces, it was the bloodiest day since Oct. 27, when nine Americans died in separate attacks in central and southern Afghanistan.

Also yesterday, Afghan and NATO aircraft continued the search for an Afghan commercial airliner that disappeared Monday on a flight from Kunduz to Kabul with 44 people on board, including three Britons and an American. Air traffic controllers lost track of the Pamir Airways Antonov-24 when it was about 55 miles north of Kabul.

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