Mine explosion kills 9 Afghan soldiers

/ Source: The Associated Press

A land mine exploded near a pickup truck carrying Afghan soldiers close to the Pakistani border on Saturday, killing nine soldiers and seriously wounding another, an Afghan commander said, one of the bloodiest attacks in months.

Elsewhere, an Afghan border guard was killed when a gunman opened fire on a car at an illegal checkpoint in the southeast, police said. The gunman also was fatally shot.

Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, a man who regularly claims to speak for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the mine blast on behalf of the hard-line militia.

The 10 soldiers from a border guard unit were aboard a pickup truck when it struck the mine on a road near Spinboldak, a frontier town in southern Kandahar province, Gen. Abdul Raziq Khan told The Associated Press.

The only survivor, an officer called Qadir Bhai, was seriously injured and taken to a nearby French special forces base for treatment, Khan said.

‘Coming over the border’
Khan, the unit’s commander, said the mine was freshly laid and blamed Taliban militants for the attack.

“They are coming over the border from Pakistan to carry out these attacks,” he said in a telephone interview from Spinboldak.

The purported Taliban spokesman said militants detonated the mine by remote control, then opened fire on the stricken soldiers.

He claimed 11 troops were killed and vowed attacks would continue against Afghan and American forces. The claim could not be verified.

Separately, Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said four Afghans working for a U.S. security firm had been wounded when a mine exploded near their vehicle on Thursday in Chawkay district of Kunar province.

He said investigators were unsure if the mine was newly laid or left over from Afghanistan’s many years of war.

The Afghan border guard died Saturday in the southeastern Khost province after a gunman tried to extort money from a car full of guards at an illegal checkpoint, police said.

The gunmen, who opened fire on the car when the soldiers refused to pay, was also fatally shot, police chief Mohammed Ayoub said.

U.S. and Afghan security forces are in the midst of a winter-long operation supposed to keep militants on the defensive and prevent them from preparing major violence against Afghan parliamentary elections slated for the spring.

Commanders have said the operation includes fresh efforts to tighten security along the mountainous border with Pakistan, where militants are believed to find refuge between attacks on American and Afghan troops.