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Times wires

KABUL - A powerful suicide car bomb exploded near the heart of the American and NATO military command here, killing Afghan civilians and Italian troops and underscoring the insurgent threat as the rift deepened between President Hamid Karzai and the Western backers financing his government and deploying thousands of troops in the country.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the noontime explosion, which blew an Italian armored vehicle across two lanes of traffic and, according to Italian officials, left six soldiers dead and four wounded. Afghan officials said 10 Afghan civilians were killed and 52 wounded.

Italy's defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said early in the day that the "cowardly" attack in the Afghan capital would not affect Italy's commitment. But later Thursday he indicated the role of Italy's mission would be reviewed.

Republicans want answers: House Minority Leader John Boehner said at a Capitol Hill news conference that the U.S. and NATO battlefield commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was not being allowed by the administration to testify to Congress. The Ohio Republican said he believes McChrystal doesn't have enough troops to turn around the faltering war effort.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said President Barack Obama needs to be given more time. "There has been a lot of talk this week and the last two or three weeks about Afghanistan and frankly, from my standpoint, everybody ought to take a deep breath," he said.

Election rift deepens: Karzai, speaking at a news conference on Thursday, dismissed complaints that the Aug. 20 presidential ballot was marred by widespread fraud. He said Western governments should "respect the people's vote." Karzai said some government officials had been "partial" to him and some to other candidates, but he said there was little evidence of widespread irregularities.

Airstrike toll: An Afghan presidential commission said Thursday that 30 civilians and 69 armed Taliban militants died in a German-ordered U.S. airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers earlier this month.

The panel said in a statement released by Karzai's office that NATO erred in the Sept. 4 bombing, as scores of fighters and civilians swarmed the trucks on a sand spit in the Kunduz River.