Twelve dead in Afghanistan violence

KABUL (AFP) – Twelve people including three foreign soldiers were killed in a spate of bombings and gun battles in Afghanistan, including one firefight between police and opium growers, officials said Wednesday.

The worst gun battle erupted when farmers, whom police said were linked to “armed opposition groups” — a reference to Taliban and other rebels — resisted anti-drugs forces trying to destroy their illegal but lucrative crop.

A policeman and four locals were killed in the fight in Laghman province’s Alishing area, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of Kabul, provincial government spokesman Wakil Atak said. Five policemen were wounded, he said.

Provincial police chief Abdul Karim Omaryar confirmed that four locals were killed but said only two policemen were hurt and none killed.

“I am sure they were elements from the armed opposition groups,” he said of the locals.

Afghanistan is the world’s top producer of opium, accounting for more than 90 percent of global supply worth about four billion dollars.

Officials say profits from the booming drugs trade in part fund an insurgency by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, and other radical factions.

Most of the violence takes place in southern and eastern Afghanistan, areas bordering Pakistan’s tribal areas where radical rebels, including those from Al-Qaeda, are said to have bases.

In one of a string of incidents in the eastern border province of Khost Wednesday, two NATO soldiers and a civilian were killed when they were hit by a bomb on a routine patrol, the alliance force said.

Another two International Security Assistance Force troops were wounded, ISAF said in a statement.

The 40-nation force did not give the nationalities of the soldiers or details about the civilian who had been with them. Most of the troops in Khost are US nationals.

The Canadian military announced meanwhile that it had lost a soldier in an attack in a Taliban hotspot in the southern province of Kandahar on Tuesday.

The latest deaths bring to 50 the number of international troops who have lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in hostile action.

Back in Khost, a provincial police administrator and his driver were killed when a roadside bomb blew up their vehicles on Wednesday, provincial deputy police chief Colonel Mohammad Youqoub told AFP.

Hours later a child was killed and at least three other people, including another child, wounded when explosives allegedly being set up in a car for a suicide bombing blew up on the outskirts of the town, police said.

In southern Helmand province, US Marines and British troops pushed on with a week-old operation to clear rebel fighters from the key Garmser area on the southern border with Pakistan.

They had captured “enemy strong points and defensive positions” and discovered nine caches of weapons, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit said.

The insurgents were resisting and the Marines had “consistently encountered disorganised resistance.”

The Marines starting arriving in Afghanistan in March to reinforce NATO troops under pressure in the area.

About 70,000 international troops are stationed in war-ravaged Afghanistan to help the government beat back extremists and to build up Afghan forces.

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