KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Militants killed six Americans, including a female diplomat, and an Afghan doctor Saturday in a pair of attacks in Afghanistan. It was the deadliest day for the United States in the war in eight months.
The violence — hours after the U.S. military’s top officer arrived for consultations with Afghan and U.S.-led coalition officials — illustrates the instability plaguing the nation as foreign forces work to pull nearly all their combat troops out of the country by the end of 2014.
The attacks came just days after insurgents stormed a courthouse, killing more than 46 people in one of the deadliest attacks of the war, now in its 12th year.
The three U.S. service members, two U.S. civilians and the doctor were killed when the group was struck by an explosion while traveling south to donate books to students in a new school in Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul province, officials and the State Department said.
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In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Americans included a Department of Defense civilian and the Foreign Service officer.
“She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future,” Kerry said of the officer. “We also honor the U.S. troops and Department of Defense civilian who lost their lives, and the Afghan civilians who were killed today as they worked to improve the nation they love.”
Officials said the explosion occurred just as a coalition convoy drove past a caravan of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province to the same school event. It is unclear whether the attack was aimed at the coalition forces or the governor.
Another U.S. civilian was killed in a separate insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement.
It was the deadliest day for Americans since Aug. 16, when seven U.S. service members were killed in two attacks in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency. Six were killed when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents and one soldier died in a roadside bomb explosion.
Violence in Afghanistan is expected to pick up in the coming weeks and months, as the warm weather spreads. Further, as the NATO troops who have secured the country for the past decade pack up and leave at the end of 2014, the Taliban are expected to intensify efforts to destabilize the Afghan security forces, who are taking over the battle.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Zabul attack, which occurred near a coalition base and killed an Afghan doctor accompanying the governor, said Muhammad Jan Rasoolyar, the deputy governor. The governor survived the attack, which also wounded several Americans and Afghans, including two of the governor’s bodyguards. The State Department said four of its employees were wounded, one critically.
The latest attacks occurred just hours after U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, landed in Afghanistan for a visit aimed at assessing the level of training that U.S. troops can provide to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal.
Provincial Gov. Mohammad Ashraf Nasery, who survived the attack in Qalat, said the blast occurred in front of a hospital and a coalition base housing a provincial reconstruction team, or PRT. International civilian and military workers at the PRT train Afghan government officials and help with development projects.
“The governor’s convoy was at the gate of the school at the same time the (coalition) convoy came out from the PRT,” said provincial police chief Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Rooghlawanay. “The suicide bomber blew himself up between the two convoys.”
Nasery thinks his convoy was the intended target.
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.