KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle packed with explosives into a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol on Monday, killing 14 people including three Americans in the latest attack on an increasingly fraught program to help Afghan forces take over security so foreign troops can withdraw from the country over the next two years.
The attack followed more American casualties over the weekend that pushed the U.S. military's death toll for the 11-year-war above 2,000 — a figure that has climbed steadily in recent months as attacks on the so-called "partnering" initiative have risen.
Joint patrols between NATO and Afghan forces, like the one targeted Monday, have been limited following a tide of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police on their international allies. Last month, the U.S. military issued new orders that require units to get approval from superiors before conducting operations with Afghans. Two weeks later, U.S. officials said most missions were being conducted with Afghans again, though the system of approvals remained in place.
The close contact — coalition forces working side by side with Afghan troops as advisers, mentors and trainers — is a key part of the U.S. strategy for putting the Afghans in the lead as it and other nations prepare to pull out their last combat troops by the end of 2014.
But the rising death toll for international troops has raised troubling questions about whether they will achieve their aim, boosting calls inside the alliance for a pullout as soon as possible and jeopardizing the goal of training the Afghans to fully secure their country.
In the latest attack, the bomber struck the mixed police and military patrol shortly after they got out of their vehicles to walk through a market area in the eastern city of Khost. It was a reminder that the insurgency is still fighting hard after 11 years of a U.S.-led war to defeat the militants.
In addition to three Americans and their translator, six civilians and four police officers were killed in the explosion, provincial government spokesman Baryalai Wakman said. The police officers were part of a specialized quick-reaction force, he added.
Blood could be seen on the market road as Afghan police and soldiers tried to clean up the area after the blast. Slippers and bicycle parts were strewn about.
"I heard the explosion and came right to this area. I saw the dead bodies of policemen and of civilians right here," said policeman Hashmat Khan, who ran to the site of the blast from his job as security for a nearby bank.