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Suicide Blast Strikes U.S. Military Convoy in Afghanistan

Reports varied as to the number of civilians killed or injured in the attack, which took place on the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad a day after suicide bombers killed 12 people in attacks in the south. News agency reports indicate the number of wounded could be as many as 74 people.

At least eight civilians were killed, Ghafoor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief, told the Associated Press. An American soldier was also killed, the U.S. military said.

No one took immediate responsibility, but the attack was similar to a recent string of blasts conducted by Taliban militants.

Violence by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has jumped this year to record levels. Attacks are up 30 percent from 2007, military officials say, according to the AP. U.S. officials have said they will send additional troops to Afghanistan starting in January to reinforce about 65,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers already in the country.

On Thursday, Sweden announced it will increase the number of troops it has in Afghanistan from the current level of 390 to about 500 next year. The Scandinavian country also said it will strengthen its presence with transport aircraft and helicopters for medical transports.

Thursday’s bomber in the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar province struck the convoy near a crowded livestock market where people were trading sheep, cows, goats and other animals, Ghafoor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief, told the AP.

An Associated Press photographer said an American military vehicle, two civilian vehicles and two rickshaws were destroyed.

“A huge flame blew through the air. I didn’t know what had happened but when I opened my eyes I saw people covered in blood and animal parts scattered all over the market,” Mandozai Takal, a resident of the area, told The Washington Post of the scene.

The U.S. soldier’s death brought the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 148, the highest annual number since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. There were 111 military deaths in Afghanistan in all of 2007, according to the AP.

The United Nations condemned the bombing, which it said “inflicted enormous suffering in an otherwise peaceful community.”

President Hamid Karzai condemned an attack earlier this week on schoolgirls in the southern city of Kandahar, which he said was carried out by the enemies of education, according to Reuters.

Men pulled off the girls’ head scarves and threw acid in their faces outside their school Wednesday.

Separately, two British soldiers were killed while on patrol Wednesday with Afghan soldiers. Their vehicle was blown up by a bomb in the southern province of Helmand, the British Ministry of Defense said.

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