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Taliban attack on NATO convoy kills 17 in Afghan capital of Kabul: NATO

KABUL, Afghanistan--A Taliban suicide bomber has rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into an armored NATO bus on a busy thoroughfare in Kabul, killing 17 people including a dozen Americans in the deadliest strike against the U.S.-led coalition in the Afghan capital since the war began.

Also on Saturday, a man wearing an Afghan army uniform killed three Australian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in the south — attacks that show the resiliency of the insurgency and are likely to raise new doubts about the unpopular 10-year-old war and the Western strategy of trying to talk peace with the Taliban.

A spokesman for the fundamentalist Islamic movement, which was ousted in the 2001 invasion for its affiliation with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack, saying the bomber had used 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of explosives.

The Taliban and related groups have staged more than a dozen major attacks in Kabul this year, including seven since June, in an apparent campaign to weaken confidence in the Afghan government as it prepares to take over its own security ahead of a 2014 deadline for the U.S. and other NATO countries to withdraw their troops or move them into support roles.

Underscoring the difficulties ahead, the brazen assault occurred just hours after top Afghan and Western officials met in the heart of Kabul to discuss the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan forces in all or part of 17 of the country's 34 provinces. Afghans already have the lead in the Afghan capital.

Heavy black smoke poured from the burning wreckage of an armored personnel carrier, known as a Rhino, in Kabul after the bomber struck. The bus had been sandwiched in the middle of a convoy of mine-resistant military vehicles when it was hit along a four-lane highway often used by foreign military trainers in the southwestern part of Kabul.

The landmark Darulaman Palace, the bombed-out seat of former Afghan kings, was the backdrop to the chaotic scene: Shrapnel, twisted pieces of metal and charred human remains littered the street.

U.S. soldiers wept as they pulled bodies from the debris, said Noor Ahmad, a witness at the scene. One coalition soldier was choking inside the burned bus, he said.

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