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Carnage at Afghan marketplace as suicide bombers kill 22 civilians


Afghan security officials inspect the scene where of a suicide attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday.


A dusty marketplace in southern Afghanistan was turned into a gruesome scene of blood and bodies on Wednesday after at least two suicide attacks, which left 22 civilians dead and at least 50 others injured, officials said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the militant group was behind the attacks in Kandahar, the capital of Kandahar province and the spiritual birthplace of the insurgency, The Associated Press reported. 

In the east, two American pilots were killed in a helicopter crash amid enemy activity, an un-named senior U.S. defense official at the Pentagon told The Associated Press. NATO confirmed that two service members had been killed in the crash but not their nationality or any other information.

A ferocious 18-hour Taliban attack on the Afghan capital ended when insurgents who had holed up in two buildings were overcome by heavy gunfire from Afghan-led forces and pre-dawn air assaults from U.S.-led coalition helicopters.  ITN's Bill Neely reports.

Also in the east, Afghan officials and residents said a pre-dawn NATO air-strike targeting militants killed civilians celebrating a wedding in Logar province, including women and children, although a NATO forces spokesman said they had no reports of civilians being killed in the overnight raid to capture a Taliban leader.

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NATO said a number of insurgents had been killed as a result of the operation, and that two Afghan women had received medical care after being wounded. The women had not received life-threatening injuries, NATO said.

A local member of parliament told NBC News that at least 18 people were killed in the attack.  

AP Photo/Ihsanullah Majroh

Afghan villagers gather at a house destroyed in an apparent NATO raid in Logar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday.

"Among those killed were civilians and members of the Taliban," Saib Khan told NBC News.  "It is hard to obtain the exact number of casualties because a wedding party was staying in the same area where the airstrike occurred."

Local officials told Afghanistan's TOLOnews that 13 civilians had been killed in the airstrike.  

There was no immediate explanation for the different accounts. 

Kandahar attack
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the Kandahar attack on civilians, saying it proved the "enemy is getting weaker because they are killing innocent people." 

One suicide bomber detonated a three-wheeled motorbike filled with explosives first, Rahmatullah Atrafi, deputy police chief in Kandahar province told the AP. Then, as people rushed to assist the casualties, two other suicide bombers on foot walked up to the site and blew themselves up, he said.

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The explosions left a bloody scene of body parts, shoes, soda cans, snacks and debris from three shops that were destroyed. 

Mohammad Naeem, a 30-year-old shopkeeper, said he was selling soft drinks to a customer when the first blast occurred.

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"I dropped to the ground," he told the AP. "When I got up, I looked outside and I heard people shouting for help." 

Naeem said he helped his customer, who was wounded, into his shop. 

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"He was bleeding. I put cloth on his wound to stop the bleeding," he said. "I was busy with that when the other blasts occurred." 

Islam Zada, a truck driver, was on the other side of the road having tea near his parked truck when the attack began.

"I couldn't see anything except for fire and dust," Zada said of the scene. "I found a wounded truck driver on our side of the road and went to help him," Zada said. "We gave him some water and when we were talking to him the other blasts occurred." 

Protests spread for a third day throughout Afghanistan despite apologies from NATO and U.S. officials for the inadvertent burning of Qurans. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.

The number of Afghan civilians killed dropped 36 percent in the first four months of the year compared with last year, according to the latest figures compiled by the U.N. While the trend is promising, the U.N. laments that too many civilians are being caught up in the violence as insurgents fight Afghan and foreign forces. 

The U.N. said last month that 579 civilians were killed in the first four months - down from 898 killed in the same period of 2011. 

Anti-government forces caused 79 percent of civilian casualties and Afghan and foreign forces 9 percent, according to the U.N. It was not clear who was responsible for the remaining 12 percent.

NBC News' Atia Abawi and Akbar Shinwari, and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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