KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy passing through a crowded livestock market in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least eight civilians and an American soldier and wounding 74 people, Afghan officials said.
The American patrol was hit in the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar province, said Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, a U.S. military spokesman. The convoy was about 90 miles east of Kabul on the main road linking the capital to the Pakistan border at Torkham.
Hours after the attack, the charred and twisted remains of cars still smoldered on the tree-lined street.
No one took responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of those conducted by Taliban militants, who regularly use suicide attackers and car bombs.
In other violence, the U.S. military said its troops killed four al-Qaida linked militants in the region.
Violence by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has spiked this year to record levels. Attacks are up 30 percent from 2007, military officials say. U.S. officials have said they will send additional troops to Afghanistan starting in January to reinforce about 65,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers already in the country.
Nearly 1,000 civilians are among the approximately 5,400 people killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press of figures provided by Afghan and international officials. Most of the reported dead have been militants.
The bomber in Nangarhar struck the convoy near a crowded livestock market where people were trading sheep, cows, goats and other animals, said Ghafoor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
An Associated Press photographer said an American military vehicle, two civilian vehicles and two rickshaws were destroyed.
At least eight civilians were killed and 74 were wounded, Khan said. An American soldier was also killed, the U.S. military said.
The wounded civilians were transported to at least three hospitals in the provincial capital of Jalalabad, Khan said. American soldiers were sifting through the wreckage for clues.
The soldier's death brought the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 148, the highest annual number since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. There were 111 military deaths in Afghanistan in all of 2007.
The number of civilians killed in Thursday's attack reported by Khan and other Afghan officials was significantly lower than an earlier report by the U.S. military, which said 20 civilians had died. Later, the military declined to put a number on the dead civilians and referred calls to Afghan authorities.
The United Nations condemned the bombing, which it said "inflicted enormous suffering in an otherwise peaceful community."
The U.S. military said in a statement that its troops were targeting an al-Qaida associated militant in Zormat district of Paktia province on Thursday when the four militants were killed.
The statement said the militants assisted local Taliban leaders with the movement of Arab and other foreign fighters into Afghanistan. None of the militants killed were identified.
First lady Laura Bush decried an attack Wednesday in which two men on a motorcyle threw acid on eight Afghan girls walking to school in Kandahar. Doctors said three of the girls were hospitalized with serious burns.
"These cowardly and shameful acts are condemned by honorable people in the United States and around the world," the first lady said in a statement.
Girls were banned from schools under the Taliban's hard-line Islamist regime, and women were not allowed to leave the house without a male family member escorting them.
Afghanistan's government said the attack was carried out by the "country's enemies," a usual reference for Taliban militants. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied his group's involvement.
Separately, the British Ministry of Defense reported that two of its soldiers serving with NATO-led force in southern Afghanistan were killed Wednesday, when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device in Helmand province's Garmser district.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.