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Eight US soldiers killed in Afghan blasts

27 may 2011, 17:42
Eight soldiers killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan were Americans, the Pentagon confirmed, in one of the worst single incidents in recent months, AFP reports.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the soldiers were killed by two successive blasts on Thursday in the same location in Shorabak district in Kandahar province.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, and fighting there in the coming months is likely to prove a key test of foreign forces' ability to hold ground in the south taken from insurgents last year after a troop surge.

Local border police commander Tafseer Khan Khogyani said the attack, which also killed two Afghan policemen, took place as coalition and Afghan forces were on patrol about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Pakistan border.

"As they approached a container, explosives that had been placed inside went off, causing a huge explosion," he said.

Kandahar border police chief General Abdul Razeq said that the container was used as an ammunition store by Taliban fighters smuggling weapons across the border from Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the blast, which was initially announced by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The bombing brings to 199 the number of foreign troops who have been killed in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the independent website iCasualties.org.

Of those, 148 were from the United States. The total international force death toll for last year was 711.

The blast caused ISAF's highest death toll in a single incident since April 27, when nine Americans -- eight troops and a contractor -- were killed by an Afghan officer who opened fire at a Kabul military training centre.

It also brought the death toll of foreign troops in a single day to nine -- earlier Thursday, a NATO helicopter crashed in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan, killing one.

There are around 130,000 ISAF service personnel in the war-torn country, around 90,000 of whom are from the United States.

Much of Afghanistan's worst fighting takes place in the south of the country, particularly in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand which border Pakistani areas where insurgents have hideouts.

While international forces insist they have been taking the fight to insurgents throughout the winter, the Taliban announced the start of their spring fighting season at the end of April.

The commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus, warned in a memo released Saturday that they could face tough times ahead.

"It is likely that our enemies will pursue high-profile attacks this summer in an attempt to demonstrate continued capability," he said.

This should be expected because of the "progress" made in "important areas" since last year, he added.

There has been a rash of insurgent attacks against forces loyal to President Hamid Karzai's government in recent days, including a suicide attack on a Kabul military hospital Saturday which killed six medical students.

It is nearly 10 years since US-led forces invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks to topple the Taliban, who had been harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- killed by US forces in Pakistan this month.

By Katherine Haddon

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