Blast in Afghanistan kills Portuguese peacekeeper, wounds three others
KABUL, Afghanistan – An explosion tore through a convoy of vehicles from the NATO-led security force Friday, killing one Portuguese peacekeeper and wounding three others just days after a deadly assault on the force that authorities blamed on al-Qaida.The death was the 25th of a peacekeeper in Afghanistan this year.Meanwhile, U.S. and Afghan forces called in attack helicopters during a firefight with suspected rebels in the volatile south near the city of Kandahar. No American or Afghan soldiers were hurt.In Kabul, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force, or ISAF, said it was not yet clear whether the explosion on a two-vehicle patrol of Portuguese troops in the Bagrami district, just east of the capital, was a deliberate attack.”It is too early to determine whether this was an attack or a tragic accident and an investigation is now under way,” ISAF said in a statement.Portuguese Armed Forces Chief Jose Mendes Cabecadas declined to say whether the blast was a land mine or a remotely detonated device.Tens of thousands of land mines and unexploded ordnance are left over from decades of warfare in Afghanistan, but a resident said it was unlikely the explosive had been on the road for long, indicating it was an intentional attack.”This area was not mined during the Holy War” against Soviet troops in the 1980s, said Zalmai, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. He said he heard a loud explosion, followed by gunfire from the soldiers.The attack comes at the end of a bloody week in Afghanistan.Eight people were killed Monday when suicide bombers rammed two cars filled with explosives into vehicles carrying peacekeepers – the first major assault on foreign troops in Kabul in more than a year. Troops thwarted a suspected third bombing by shooting dead three people in a car racing toward the scene of the blasts.A German peacekeeper was among those killed, and five peacekeepers were wounded. The rest of the dead were Afghans.Authorities blamed al-Qaida for the attacks, and the defense minister later warned that his government believes the terror network has more suicide attackers ready to strike.ISAF has about 12,000 soldiers from 36 nations in Afghanistan and is responsible for security in Kabul as well as northern and western regions of the country. A separate 20,000-strong U.S.-led coalition is in the east and south hunting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.This year, 86 American troops have died in Afghanistan.During a visit to neighboring Pakistan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca said Friday that Taliban leaders were in league with al-Qaida, but she remained optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.She also said the hunt was still on for Osama bin Laden, who is suspected to be hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”Obviously we will continue to look for him and one day we will find him,” she told reporters in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar.—Associated Press reporter Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.