Taliban suicide bomber targets Kabul army bus

A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying Afghan army personnel in Kabul Wednesday, wounding six people and highlighting a growing trend of strikes on Afghan rather than NATO military targets.

The bomber struck on a busy main street in the heavily secured Afghan capital, where the Taliban have already this year claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks on the intelligence and traffic police headquarters.

Western officials say the trend reflects a shift in strategy, away from focusing on the US-led NATO combat mission, which is due to withdraw next year, to instead target Afghan forces preparing to take over.

"At around 7:10 am (0240 GMT), a suicide attacker on foot detonated himself next to a military bus in third district of Kabul city, injuring six. They are members of the defence ministry and one civilian," said police spokesman Hashmatullah Stanikzai.

Dawlat Waziri, deputy spokesman at the defence ministry, said the bomber was on foot and tried to board the vehicle.

"But when he was prevented, he detonated himself outside the bus, injuring five officers and one civilian," he told AFP.

A spokesman for the Taliban, which is leading an 11-year fight against the Western-backed government, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP that 17 personnel were killed and 17 or more seriously injured. The Taliban routinely exaggerate the death tolls from attacks they claim.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the bomber detonated "a little bit away from the back of the bus," which could explain the low casualty numbers released by the Afghan authorities.

Among the nine attacks recorded by AFP in Afghanistan so far this year, only one of them, on January 25, targeted NATO troops, in the troubled eastern province of Kapisa. Five civilians were killed in that attack.

All the other attacks have targeted tribal elders, police or Afghan intelligence agents.

"Since the start of the year, the objective has mainly been Afghans, even if NATO remains a target," a Western security official told AFP.

The Pentagon admitted Tuesday that NATO's International Security Assistance Force had wrongly reported a seven percent decline in Taliban attacks last year, saying that the number was roughly the same as in 2011.

"This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check. We are making the appropriate adjustments," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

The US government and NATO have repeatedly touted a purported drop in insurgent attacks as proof that the Taliban are on the retreat. But the error raised questions about how governments and commanders are portraying the war effort.

The accurate number for insurgent attacks in 2012 showed the assaults had remained at the same level as in 2011, at more than 3,000, a US defence official said.

The United States and NATO have around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, but the vast majority will leave next year, with an estimated 352,000 NATO-trained Afghan police and soldiers taking over.