NATO convoy attacked by Taliban near Kandahar, killing 2 U.S. soldiers

A suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday causing at least two deaths.

Taliban says it has killed 15, but the number of dead has not yet been verified by NATO

U.S. troops assess the damage to an armoured vehicle of NATO-led military coalition after a suicide bomber's attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. (Ahmad Nadeem/Reuters)

A suicide bombing attack on a NATO convoy near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday left two U.S. service members dead, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis confirmed the deaths. There was no information on the number of troops wounded.

The Taliban quickly took responsibility for the attack, and a spokesperson for the insurgents said the bombing allegedly killed 15 soldiers but the Taliban routinely exaggerate their claim and casualty figures.

The NATO mission, known as Resolute Support, said earlier it "can confirm that a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack did cause casualties," he said.

In their claim of responsibility, the Taliban also said the attack destroyed two armoured tanks. The insurgents' spokesperson for southern Afghanistan, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, said fighter Asadullah Kandahari was the "hero" who carried out the attack with a small pick-up truck, packed with explosives.

Kandahar province was the Taliban spiritual heartland and the headquarters of their leadership during the five-year rule of the Taliban, which ended with the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Extent of injuries not clear

Eyewitness Ghulam Ali, who runs a mechanics shop near the attack site on the outskirts of the city of Kandahar, said the intensity of the blast knocked him out.

When he came to, he saw a military vehicle on fire on the road. He stepped out of his shop but a sudden burst of gunfire drove him back inside, he said. Then, helicopters arrived and he saw soldiers being taken away from the scene but could not determine the extent of their injuries.

Shah Agha Popal, who runs a vehicle parts shop also nearby, said he also saw soldiers being taken away by two helicopters.

"But I couldn't tell if they were wounded or if they were dead," he said.

The combined U.S. and NATO troop contingent currently in Afghanistan is about 13,500. The Trump administration is deciding whether to send about 4,000 or more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan in an attempt to stem Taliban gains.

The attack came as Afghan authorities in western Herat province tightened security ahead of a mass funeral for the victims of an attack the previous evening that left 32 dead, said provincial governor's spokesperson Jilani Farhad.

Another 66 worshippers were injured in the suicide assault Tuesday evening. As worshippers began their evening prayers, a suicide attacker sprayed bullets at the private guards protecting the mosque before entering inside and detonating his explosives.

The Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the mosque bombing, saying it was carried out by two of its fighters. ISIS said in a statement that the two men, identified by the militant group as Amir Qassim and Tayeb al-Kharasani, also used automatic rifles in the Shia mosque before they detonated themselves.

The statement claimed the attack killed nearly 50 and wounded more than 80.

Witnesses said demonstrators brought 31 bodies near the provincial governor's residence in a large freezer truck. Protesters demanded the people behind the brutal assault be arrested.

On Monday, after taking credit for an attack on the Iraq Embassy in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan warned it would strike Shia. The Sunni militant group considers Shia Muslims as apostates.

With files from Reuters