Six Canadian soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan Sunday when their vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb, a coalition spokesman said. At least one other soldier was injured.
It was the worst single incident for the 33,000-strong NATO multinational force fighting Taliban insurgents in several months.
"I can confirm they are Canadian but the identities have not been released," Lt. Morgan Bailey said from Ottawa. "I don't have the specific details on the incident itself but they will be coming out shortly."
Earlier in the day, one NATO soldier was killed and another injured by a similar bomb in another part of the volatile south, a NATO spokeswoman said. The news followed an announcement from a purported spokesman for the Taliban that a kidnapped translator for an Italian journalist was killed on Sunday. The Afghan government later confirmed the death.
About 5,000 NATO and Afghan troops are engaged in a major offensive, Operation Achilles, in Helmand province in the south, the opium heartland of the world's biggest producer.
British and Canadian troops make up the bulk of coalition forces in the south of the country.
The latest deaths bring the Canadian toll to 51 since Ottawa sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002. Canada's main base is in the southern city of Kandahar.
NATO follows a practice of not disclosing the province where its casualties take place since this could identify the victims' nationality.
Last year saw the bloodiest fighting since Taliban insurgents were ousted in 2001, mainly in the rebels' southern heartland of Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.
Almost all NATO'S combat activities in Afghanistan are being conducted by U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers in the south and east, bordering Pakistan.
Britain has said it will send another 1,400 soldiers soon -- making its deployment in Afghanistan greater than in Iraq. The United States has also committed an extra 3,200 soldiers.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has nearly quadrupled within the last three years, largely as a result of U.S. and British reinforcements, and the transfer of U.S. troops from a separate U.S.-led coalition to ISAF.
Translator confirmed dead
Meanwhile, the Afghan government confirmed the death of Ajmal Nashqbandi, a freelance journalist and translator. He had been kidnapped along with Daniele Mastrogiacomo, of Italian daily La Repubblica, and a driver in southern Helmand province on March 5. The driver was beheaded, and Mastrogiacomo was released March 19 in a much criticized swap for five Taliban militants.
The Taliban made a similar demand in return for the release of Nashqbandi.
“We asked for two Taliban commanders to be released in exchange for Ajmal Nashqbandi, 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 the 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.
Local Tolo television station also reported Atal’s claim that Nashqbandi had been beheaded.
Gunman kills 2 Afghans
Also Sunday, in the eastern Khost province, a gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle opened fire Sunday on Afghans working for ISAF, killing two of the men and wounding another, ISAF said in a statement.
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 sustained minor injuries, 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, Carl said, adding 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.