2 NATO soldiers, 24 Taliban killed in Afghan violence

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – Two NATO soldiers were killed Thursday in separate explosions in Afghanistan, as US-led warplanes and soldiers killed 24 Taliban who were hiding in caves in the south, officials said.

The killings followed the deaths of two Canadian troops on Wednesday, and takes the number of foreign soldiers killed in the country to 11 in less than a week.

A third soldier was wounded in the two roadside blasts, which occurred 30 minutes apart along the same road in eastern Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

“The two ISAF convoys were approximately eight kilometres (five miles) apart, conducting independent operations in support of the Afghan government, when they were attacked within 30 minutes of each other,” it said, without identifying the nationality of the victims.

American soldiers are deployed in eastern Afghanistan, a volatile area that borders Pakistan.

Eight Canadian and one American soldiers have died in similar explosions in Afghanistan since Sunday.

The two latest Canadian victims were killed by a roadside bomb near their vehicle on Wednesday, as the bodies of six of their comrades who died days earlier in a similar attack were returning home for burial, officials said.

That blast occurred about 38 kilometres (24 miles) west of the southern city of Kandahar — the birthplace of the Taliban — and also wounded two soldiers, one seriously, Canadian National Defence spokesman John Knoll said in Ottawa.

The coalition said 24 Taliban were killed when Afghan and US-led coalition troops spotted a group of the Islamist rebels on a ridge near a cave in troubled Zabul province late Wednesday and called in jets to bomb the location.

Several Taliban who survived the airstrike jumped on motorcycles to evade the advancing troops before taking refuge in another cave which was also destroyed by coalition aircraft, the statement said.

“As a result of the fighting, 24 enemy fighters were killed, 14 motorcycles and two cave sites were destroyed. One weapons cache was also recovered during a subsequent search of the caves,” it said.

Zabul is one of Afghanistan’s most violent regions. Taliban rebels seized control of a remote district there last week, the latest of several rebel attempts to exert control in southern and western parts of the country.

The latest casualties bring the Canadian military death toll in Afghanistan to 53 since the start of their mission in 2002.

Canada has 2,500 soldiers in southern Afghanistan as part of the 37,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contingent that is supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai. Separately, there are around 11,000 US-led coalition troops.

On April 8, Easter Sunday, Canada suffered its heaviest single-day troop loss in 50 years with the death of six soldiers outside Kandahar, as the nation marked the 90th anniversary of a key World War I victory in Vimy, France.

Since the beginning of the year, 39 NATO and US-led coalition troops have died in Afghanistan. Some 170 were killed there in 2006.

Meanwhile, an ISAF service member died of “non-combat-related injuries” in the northeastern province of Kunar Tuesday, a military statement said, without giving the victim’s nationality.

Local police said the soldier drowned in the flooded Kunar river.

About 1,000 people, most of them militants, have been killed in Taliban-related violence this year, according to an AFP toll based on official reports.

The fundamentalist Taliban sheltered Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and were ousted by US-led forces in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States, but have since regrouped to lead a bloody insurgency.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday that army soldiers would see their tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq extended by three months in a sign that the US military is straining to meet its commitments.

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