By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network was behind a truck bombing that killed four Afghan civilians and wounded 77 U.S. troops on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack in Wardak province, 30 miles south of the capital. The bombing occurred hours after the Taliban issued a September 11-related statement blaming the United States for the bloodshed in Afghanistan.
"This was of course a deplorable attack against a combat outpost in Wardak and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "We believe that the perpetrators were from the Haqqani network. ... This is totally unacceptable behavior and we call on these kind of attacks to cease."
The Haqqani network is a militant group allied with the Taliban that was started by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who rose to prominence in the 1980s receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Although considered to be a part of the larger Taliban umbrella organization headed by Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqanis maintain their own command and control and lines of operation.
They are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan and to have been behind several high-profile attacks, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai and a raid on Kabul's top hotel.
Little declined to detail what evidence the U.S. government has to suggest Haqqani network involvement in the incident, which involved a large bomb hidden in a truckload of firewood.
"Suffice it to say that we have strong confidence that they were involved," he said. "There is a very strong likelihood that top Haqqani leadership supported and were aware of the attack."
"This was not some guy with a suicide vest," said Navy Captain John Kirby, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "This was a large, large vehicle with a large amount of explosive material in it. And you don't conduct that kind of an attack without good resourcing, good planning and a fair level of coordination."
The attack on Saturday in the Sayed Abad district caused one of the highest casualty tolls of the decade-long war. An 8-year-old boy was among the four Afghan civilians killed. Seventy-seven U.S. troops were wounded, as were up to 25 Afghan civilians.
Violence has escalated across Afghanistan over the summer, turning even some areas near the capital, such as Wardak, into insurgent strongholds and bringing insecurity to parts of the north and west that had been peaceful for years.
Seventy-one U.S. military personnel were killed in August. The toll got a heavy boost when 30 Navy Seals, seven Afghans and an interpreter died when a helicopter was shot down in Wardak on August 5, marking the largest loss of life in a single incident during 10 years of war.
"It has continued to be a very volatile situation, particularly in the east," Kirby said. "That's a kinetic fight there and it continues to be tough.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)