Afghanistan - A roadside bomb killed 30 people in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials said, in the deadliest strike on civilians since a NATO air raid earlier this month.

Increased fighting as a result of a growing Taliban insurgency and a bigger NATO-led force in Afghanistan has led to a rise in civilian deaths.

More than 1,500 civilians have been killed by violence in Afghanistan so far this year, the United Nations said last week.

It said 68 percent of the civilian killings were a result of militant attacks, while 23 percent were caused by Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military.

In Tuesday's strike, a bomb hit a bus outside the southern city of Kandahar killing 30 people including 10 children and seven women, the Interior Ministry said. At least 39 people were wounded.

Provincial government spokesman Zalmai Ayoubi said the bomb went off on a highway where an explosion had killed three civilians a day earlier. He blamed the Taliban for planting the devices.

Homemade bombs have become by far the deadliest weapon used by insurgents fighting Western and Afghan government forces, and civilians are frequently killed in the blasts.

The Taliban usually distance themselves from blasts when civilians are the victims.

The latest attack comes at a time of growing disquiet over the foreign mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban has grown in strength in recent months, and NATO countries have suffered growing casualties, eroding support for the war at home.


The proportion of civilians killed by insurgents has risen since the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan issued new restrictions on the use of force in an effort to reduce the number of civilians killed by Western troops.

Karzai's government says at least 30 civilians were among 99 people who died in a September 4 strike in the Kunduz region when a U.S. F-15 fighter jet called in by German troops struck two hijacked fuel trucks.

An Afghan human rights group has put the civilian death toll at up to 70, while local residents have told Reuters that more than 100 villagers may have been killed.

After taking command of all foreign forces in June, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal issued orders designed to reduce civilian casualties, especially from air strikes, part of new tactics that emphasize protecting the population.

McChrystal has said international forces needed to make a cultural shift away from conventional warfare and focus on winning the support of Afghans.

In a separate bomb attack, one woman was killed and another was wounded in the Spinghar district in east Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Golnar Motevalli and Sayed Salahuddin; Writing by Maria Golovnina)