Seven NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan – Roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan on Sunday left seven NATO soldiers dead, the alliance said, as its forces continued an anti-Taliban offensive in the world’s most fertile opium-producing region.It appeared to be the biggest combat loss for foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2005.Six troops died and one was injured when one of the bombs struck their vehicle, the alliance said in a statement. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed they were Canadian troops, Canadian Press reported.A separate roadside bomb killed one NATO soldier and wounded two, NATO said.Officials did not release the nationality of those soldiers and did not give details or say where exactly in the south the attacks took place.The fatalities underline how virulent Afghanistan’s Taliban-led resistance remains, more than six years after a U.S.-led invasion drove the hardline militia from power for harboring al-Qaida.The attack on the Canadians appeared to have inflicted the worst toll on foreign troops in a single combat incident since a U.S. helicopter crashed in Kunar in June 2005, after apparently being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Sixteen American troops died.Separately, a purported spokesman for the Taliban said the kidnapped translator for an Italian journalist was beheaded on Sunday in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan government confirmed the death.Ajmal Naqshbandi, a freelance journalist and translator, was kidnapped March 5 in southern Afghanistan along with journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a driver.The driver was beheaded. Mastrogiacomo, who worked for the daily La Repubblica, was released March 19 in a much criticized swap for five Taliban militants.The Taliban made a similar demand in return for Naqshbandi’s release.”We asked for two Taliban commanders to be released in exchange for Ajmal Naqshbandi, but the government did not care for our demands, and today, at 3:05 p.m., we beheaded Ajmal in Garmsir district of Helmand province,” said Shahabuddin Atal, who claimed to be a spokesman for regional Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah.”When we demanded the exchange for the Italian journalist, the government released the prisoners, but for the Afghan journalist, the government did not care,” Atal said.Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence service, said the Taliban executed Naqshbandi on behalf of al-Qaida.”Once again, the Taliban showed that they are following the steps of terrorist networks,” he said.U.S. officials also condemned the translator’s execution.”This barbaric killing reminds us of why the United States and NATO are in Afghanistan in the first place: to help the good people of that country defeat the Taliban extremists and their al-Qaida allies,” said Gordon Johndroe, President Bush’s national security spokesman.In the eastern Paktika province on Sunday, two Afghan guards were killed and five wounded during a four-hour firefight with Taliban militants near the border with Pakistan, according to the U.S.-led coalition, which is operating separately from the NATO-led force.Militants fired mortars and a rocket on a coalition checkpoint in the village of Kakakhel. Troops returned fire and called in an airstrike, leaving two militants dead and three others wounded, the statement said.Also Sunday, in the eastern Khost province, a gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle opened fire on Afghans working for ISAF, killing two of the men and wounding another, ISAF said in a statement.And in the eastern Nangarhar province, a suicide car bomber blew himself up next to a U.S.-led coalition convoy, said Ghafor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief. One soldier was lightly injured, a coalition statement said.The latest violence came days after more than 1,000 NATO and Afghan troops retook Sangin district in the opium-producing Helmand province.The next step will be for NATO to hand over control of the area to Afghan security forces, said Lt. Col. Maria Carl, a spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. She added that NATO already has transported about 500 Afghan forces to the south.The operation to retake the town from militants started late Wednesday and is part of NATO’s largest ever offensive in Afghanistan, Operation Achilles, launched last month to flush out Taliban militants from the northern tip of Helmand province.About 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan forces are in and around Helmand province as part of Operation Achilles. In the last several months, Taliban militants and foreign fighters have streamed into the province, according to U.S. and NATO officials.—Associated Press writer Noor Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.