KABUL A packed bus hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 25 people aboard, as NATO announced another U.S. service member died in a rapidly rising monthly death toll.
The passenger bus was traveling in Nimroz province on a main highway toward the capital, Kabul, when it struck the explosive about 7 a.m., said Nazir Ahmad, a provincial government spokesman. Another 20 people were wounded, he said.
The explosion occurred near Delaram a volatile area close to the borders of Helmand and Farah provinces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. The criminals who did this are the enemies of Muslims, he said in a statement.
Also Wednesday, officials reported three more international service members were killed two Italians and an American. The Italians died Wednesday in a roadside bombing north of Herat, the Italian Defense Ministry said. The American was killed Tuesday in the south, NATO said.
July is already one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops in the nearly nine-year Afghan war, with 59 service members killed so far. Thats just shy of the 60 who died in June the deadliest month for U.S. forces. Altogether, 82 NATO troops have died in July. In June, 103 NATO forces were killed.
The rising death toll comes as U.S. forces continue the search for a missing Navy sailor believed captured last week by Taliban forces when he and a colleague drove into an insurgent-held area of eastern Afghanistan. One of the sailors was killed in a firefight with militants, and the Taliban has said they seized the other.
NATO officials were unable to say what the two service members were doing in such a dangerous part of eastern Afghanistan.
The Navy identified the missing sailor as Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, a 25-year-old from the Seattle area. The Pentagon lists Newlove as whereabouts unknown, and did not confirm he was captured.
The service member killed was Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley a 30-year-old father of two from Wheatridge, Colo. NATO recovered his body Sunday.
The sailors were instructors at a counterinsurgency school for Afghan security forces, according to senior military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. The school was headquartered in Kabul and had classrooms outside the capital, but they were never assigned anywhere near where the body of the sailor was recovered, the officials said.
U.S. forces have pushed into southern Taliban strongholds in recent months and weeks in an attempt to squeeze insurgents out of the area where they have long functioned as a de-facto government. Along with the surge, attacks on military forces and Afghan supporters of the government have increased. Many civilians also have been killed or wounded in incidents such as Wednesdays bus bomb or caught up in the crossfire.
On Wednesday, an Afghan villager was killed by U.S. soldiers in the volatile Arghandab Valley, a strategic area near Kandahar City. An An Associated Press journalist who witnessed the shooting said soldiers approached a compound near where they had found a hidden bomb. Someone fired at the Americans, who shot back, killing a man who the troops said was carrying a rifle.