A line of Afghan schoolchildren walked past a military checkpoint as a bomb-loaded truck exploded, killing 14 youngsters in a heartbreaking scene captured by a US military security camera.
The video shot yesterday shows an SUV slowly weaving through sandbag barriers at a military checkpoint just as a line of children, aged between eight and 10, most wearing white caps, comes into view.
They walk along a pathway between the street and a wall, several of them pausing for a few seconds in a group before moving forward again. The vehicle moves towards the security camera while the children walk in the opposite direction, nearly passing the SUV when the footage ends in a fiery blast.
Photos of the bombing’s aftermath showed bloodied textbooks lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. Afghan officials said the children were attending a final day of class to receive their end-of-year certificates and find out whether they would move up to the next grade.
The US military said the attack in the eastern province of Khost killed 16 people – the 14 children, an Afghan soldier and another person, probably a private security guard that Afghan officials reported killed. The US said 58 people were wounded.
In an angry condemnation of the attack, President Hamid Karzai said those that carried it out “cannot escape the revenge of Afghans and God’s punishment”.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it was “appalled” and the Nato-led force also strongly condemned the attack.
The blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of Khost. US troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.
US General David McKiernan, the top Nato commander in Afghanistan, said he believed the militant network run by warlord Siraj Haqqani was responsible for the attack.
“The brutality and disregard for human life by terrorists is sickening, as I continue to witness innocent men, women and children being killed and maimed in the pursuit of this pointless insurgency,” General McKiernan said.
Afghan officials offered a slightly lower death toll. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Kabul, said eight people in total died and 51 were wounded. Mr Khan said he believed that only five school children had died.
It was not possible to reconcile the differing death tolls, though the US military video seemed to support the likelihood of the higher toll.
Mr Khan said the attack came at a time when Pashtun tribal elders from Mandozai district were meeting inside the compound to discuss security issues. It was not immediately clear how many – if any – of those tribal leaders were wounded or killed. Khan said it was possible they were the target but that there was no way for him to know for sure.
More than 6,100 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year.
The year has also been the deadliest for Nato soldiers since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban.
In the south, a roadside bomb killed two Canadian soldiers and two Afghans working alongside them in a dangerous region of southern Afghanistan on Saturday.