news services
updated 6/20/2007 11:21:58 AM ET 2007-06-20T15:21:58

Three NATO troops died Wednesday when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, while gunmen opened fire on people praying in a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, killing three and wounding four others, officials said.

Assailants also ambushed a convoy belonging to U.N.’s Office for Project Services on the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, killing two Afghan guards, wounding another and damaging two vehicles, said Jailani Khan, highway police chief for Zabul province.

The three NATO troops died when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in the country’s volatile south, a NATO statement said. Their nationalities were not released.

Also in the south, police clashed with insurgents and retook control of Miya Nishin district in Kandahar late Tuesday, a day after militants had overrun it, said Esmatullah Alizai, provincial police chief.

However, hours later, Alizai said his forces lost Ghorak district in the same province to the militants.

Kandahar borders mountainous Uruzgan province, where fierce fighting since Saturday between Taliban militants and Afghan and NATO forces have reportedly left more than 100 people dead, including dozens of civilians.

The mosque attack occurred in Ismail Kheil, a village in neighboring Khost province on Tuesday evening.

Two unidentified men entered the building and fatally shot three people while wounding four others, said Wazir Pacha, a provincial police spokesman.

The unidentified assailants fled, and the motive for the shooting remained unknown, Pacha said.

21 suspected Taliban slain
Meanwhile, NATO-led and Afghan troops clashed with militants in southern Afghanistan and called in airstrikes, killing 21 suspected Taliban, an Afghan official said Wednesday.

The militants were killed during a six-hour battle in Kandahar province's Zhari district, said district chief Khairudin Achakzai. The bodies were left in the battlefield, he said.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months after a traditional winter lull, with foreign forces launching attacks against Taliban strongholds in the south and east and the guerrillas hitting back with roadside and suicide bombings.

NATO downplays surge in violence
NATO said it faced a seasonal surge in militant operations, but dismissed recent suicide and bomb attacks as “militarily insignificant.”

A bomb killed 35 people, most of them police trainers, in a bus in the capital, Kabul, on Sunday. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, Nangarhar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzoi said Wednesday that a Pakistani and two Afghans were arrested for allegedly planning suicide attacks against him.

“We find ourselves in the midst of the so-called fighting season, when what we had predicted is taking place: an increase in suicide bombings and more desperate attempts by the enemies of peace and stability to present the illusion that they are stronger than they are,” said Lt. Col. Maria Carl, spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

Violence has claimed about 2,400 lives, including civilians, militants and troops, so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western military and Afghan officials.

The Associated Press aned Reuters contributed to this report.


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