Suicide bomber strikes in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – A string of bombings and gun battles reported around Afghanistan Saturday killed 41 people and left at least six wounded, including two foreigners hurt in a suicide bombing near the capital.Insurgent violence is running at its highest level since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 to oust the hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers, who had harbored al-Qaida leaders following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Most of the violence is concentrated in southern or eastern Afghanistan, where insurgents staged several attacks Saturday, but there have been occasional suicide attacks on Afghan security forces and foreign targets in Kabul.

Meanwhile, 12 Taliban fighters were killed by artillery fire along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border after insurgents attacked a military post with rockets and mortars, the U.S.-led coalition said late Saturday.

Coalition and Afghan troops in eastern Paktika province were attacked by insurgents who used Pakistan’s territory to fire rockets and mortar rounds toward a coalition observation post, a coalition statement said.

Pakistani authorities gave permission for the troops to return fire, it said.

“Coalition counter-fire batteries destroyed the six confirmed insurgent firing sites, three on each side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” the statement said.

Elsewhere, suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a convoy of two four-wheel drive Land Cruisers on a main road leading out of the capital Saturday, said Ali Shah Paktaiwal, chief of criminal investigations in the city. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said two foreigners and four Afghans were injured. He said he did not know the nationalities of the foreigners or the extent of their injuries.

In Kandahar province in the south, insurgents attacked a police patrol with a bomb and then opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, police officer Umar Khan said. Eight officers were killed and one was missing, he said.

In Ghazni province in the east, police had killed 24 militants, two of whom were believed to be Arabs, over the last 24 hours, local police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said. Five insurgents were also killed in Badghis province, in the west, since Friday, a police official there said.

Elsewhere in Kandahar, a roadside bomb killed two Afghans guarding a convoy carrying supplies for NATO-led forces, according to provincial police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib. In neighboring Helmand province, Afghan soldiers shot and killed two suspected Taliban fighters planting a roadside bomb, said police officer Ghulam Wali.

British troops battling Taliban insurgents in southern Helmand province Friday were hit by a U.S. bomb that killed three soldiers and wounded two after they called for air support. Coalition forces on Saturday defended their reliance on air power in the wake of the deaths, which came amid growing Afghan concerns about civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes.

Col. Martin Schelleis, chief spokesman of NATO’s 37-nation strong mission in the country, said air strikes were essential given the limited number of ground troops and rugged Afghan terrain.

“You cannot do it all with ground troops,” he told a press conference. “Air support is an integral part of the operation.”

Schelleis said a probe would examine at possible technical, human or procedural errors.

The British troops have been battling insurgents for months in Kajaki, a militant hotspot where repairs are taking place on a hydroelectric dam that could supply close to 2 million Afghans with electricity.

In 2002, four Canadian soldiers were killed when an American F-16 pilot on a night patrol dropped a 500-pound bomb on Canadian troops conducting a live-fire training exercise near the city of Kandahar.

The pilot apparently mistook the Canadians for enemy forces, U.S. officials have said.

In August 2006, a bomb mistakenly dropped by coalition aircraft killed 10 Afghan police officers on a patrol in the country’s southeast. The cause of that incident has never been established.

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