Six NATO personnel, including a female US diplomat, were killed on Saturday in two separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said, in the deadliest day for foreign forces this year.
In the southern province of Zabul, a Taliban car bomb struck a NATO convoy, killing three troops and two civilian workers, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
A US security source said that the three soldiers and one of the civilian workers were from the US.
An ISAF spokesman in Kabul confirmed the explosion was a car bomb targeting a military patrol, adding that there were also Afghan civilian casualties.
In addition, a US citizen died in “an insurgent attack” in eastern Afghanistan, a statement from US-forces Afghanistan said, without giving any details.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that one of the dead in the Zabul attack was a female diplomat whom he had met during a visit to Kabul two weeks ago.
Kerry said that the US officials and their Afghan colleagues had been traveling to donate books to students at a school in Qalat, the capital of Zabul Province, when they were killed in the “despicable attack.”
Paying tribute to Anne Smedinghoff, he described her as “smart, capable, eager to serve and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people.”
The Zabul attack left four US Department of State staffers injured, one critically, Kerry said.
Zabul Governor Ashraf Naseri told reporters he was on his way to attend an official function in Qalat when he heard the blast.
“One doctor and one civilian were killed and two of my body guards have been injured,” he said.
The strikes came as US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey arrived in the country on an unannounced visit and raise troubling questions about the Taliban’s strength ahead of the coalition’s withdrawal next year.
US and Romanian troops are based in the province, ISAF said on its Web site, but the force did not disclose the victims’ nationalities in line with its policy.
“An explosive-packed car went off this morning in Qalat City as a NATO convoy was passing. We heard it has caused heavy casualties,” another provincial official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Saturday is the deadliest day for the coalition since July 8 last year when two separate attacks killed seven soldiers, also in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents, who have been waging a tough insurgency since the toppling of their regime in 2001, claimed credit for the deadly strike on their Web site, adding that it happened near a newly built hospital.
The insurgents, who usually exaggerate the number of victims they kill, said: “Thirteen invaders were killed and nine others wounded, whereas one guard of the governor was also killed with two others suffering injuries.”
The attack, which coincides with the start of the fighting season for the Taliban, comes as US-led coalition forces are winding down their operations ahead of a scheduled full withdrawal of the 100,000 remaining troops next year.
Dempsey arrived in the country on Saturday to assess the level of training the US will need to provide Afghan forces following the withdrawal.
In August last year, insurgents’ rockets hit Dempsey’s plane as it was parked at the Bagram Air Field, wounding two maintenance crew, officials said. Dempsey flew out of the country unharmed using another plane.
In another show of strength, Taliban gunmen on Thursday killed 46 people at an Afghan court complex in western Afghanistan in a bid to free insurgents standing trial.
That attack in Farah Province, which borders Iran, was Afghanistan’s deadlies in more than a year.
Additional reporting by AP