KABUL, Afghanistan – A single-file line of schoolchildren walked past a military checkpoint Sunday as a bomb-loaded truck veered toward them and exploded, killing 14 young Afghans in a heartbreaking flash captured by a U.S. military security camera.
The video shows an SUV slowly weaving through sandbag barriers at a military checkpoint just as a line of schoolchildren, 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 toward 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 pairs of shoes. Afghan officials said the students were attending a final day of class for the year to find out whether they would move up to the next grade.
Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were ages 8 to 10.
The U.S. military said the attack in the eastern province of Khost killed 16 people, including 14 children, an Afghan soldier and another person – likely a private security guard that Afghan officials reported killed. The U.S. said 58 people were wounded.
In an angry condemnation of the attack, President Hamid Karzai said those who carried it out “cannot escape the revenge of Afghans and God’s punishment.”
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan 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. U.S. troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.
U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he believes 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,” McKiernan said in a statement.
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. Khan said he believed that only five school children had died.
It wasn’t possible to reconcile the differing death tolls, though the U.S. military video seemed to support the likelihood of the higher toll.
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.
The blast came only hours after a late-night rocket attack in Kabul on Saturday killed three teenage sisters.