Car bomb in Kabul kills 6 Italians, 10 Afghans

KABUL – A suicide car bomber killed six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians Thursday in the heavily guarded capital of Kabul — a grim reminder of the Taliban's reach amid political uncertainty in Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack for the Italian contingent in the country.

Violence has increased since the U.S. sent thousands more troops to push back the resurgent Taliban and bolster security for last month's still-unresolved presidential election. The Taliban made good on threats to disturb the vote, and militant attacks have risen not just in the group's southern heartland but also in the north and in Kabul and surrounding areas.

The bomber rammed his explosives-filled car into two Italian military vehicles in a convoy about midday. Four Italian soldiers were also wounded, said Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa. The Afghan Interior Ministry said an additional 55 civilians were injured.

The explosion shattered windows in buildings about half a mile a kilometer away and shook offices and homes throughout the central Afghan neighborhood that houses embassies and military bases.

Charred vehicles littered the road just off a main traffic circle that leads to the airport. An Associated Press reporter saw six vehicles burned, including an Italian Humvee, and two bodies covered with plastic sheets.

Shopkeeper Feraudin Ansari said he felt the blast in his store about 50 yards meters away. Windows were broken in all the shops on the street. He said he was angry at NATO forces for being in the downtown area.

"Why are you patrolling inside the city? There is no al-Qaida, no Taliban here," said Ansari, 25. "My shop is destroyed, and my head hurts from the blast."

Elsewhere, a NATO service member died from a bomb strike in the south Wednesday, NATO forces said.

In addition to violence, Afghanistan is mired in debates about the legitimacy of the fraud-tainted presidential balloting, whose uncertain result threatens to undermine the government's authority.

In his first public comments on the disputed election, President Hamid Karzai defended its integrity, saying Thursday he had seen only limited proof of fraud. Full preliminary results showed him with 54.6 percent of the vote, well ahead of leading challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But recounts and fraud investigations could drive Karzai's total below 50 percent, forcing him into a runoff.

A U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which is the final judge of the count, has ordered a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations countrywide because of suspect results. The complaints panel has thrown out results from 83 polling stations because of "clear and compelling" evidence of fraud.

Acknowledging fraud, Karzai said "there were some government officials who were partial toward me," but he alleged that others had manipulated results to favor Abdullah.

Abdullah alleged "state-engineered fraud," adding that if the fake ballots were not discounted, "the champions out of this will be the Taliban."

The increased fighting and complaints about the election have raised questions abroad about whether the Afghan war is worth the cost in lives and financial support. Officials have said the war just needs to be refocused.

La Russa, the Italian defense minister, said early in the day that the "cowardly" attack in the Afghan capital would not affect his country's commitment. But later Thursday he indicated the role of Italy's mission would be reviewed.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said it would be best for international troops to leave Afghanistan soon, but any decision would be made with allies.

Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Washington and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

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