7 NATO Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan

Monday, April 9th 2007, 7:31 am

By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ 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.

Separately, a purported spokesman for the Taliban said the kidnapped translator for an Italian journalist was beheaded Sunday. The Afghan government confirmed the death.

Six troops died and one was injured when one of the roadside 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 Sunday 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 Canadians' deaths appeared to be the biggest single combat loss for foreign troops in Afghanistan since June 2005, when a U.S. helicopter crashed. Sixteen American troops died after the aircraft was apparently hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The fatalities underline how virulent Afghanistan's Taliban-led resistance remains, more than five years after a U.S.-led invasion drove the hardline militia from power for harboring al-Qaida.

Also Sunday in the south, U.S.-led coalition aircraft tracked a car of Taliban militants after it had fired a rocket-propelled grenade into an Afghan army vehicle in the Sangin district of Helmand province, a coalition statement said Monday.

When the Taliban vehicle had moved away from the populated Sangin area, the coalition destroyed it, killing six Taliban inside, the statement said, adding that Afghan and coalition troops suffered no casualties in the incident.

Elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, freelance journalist and translator Ajmal Naqshbandi was beheaded after more than a month in captivity. He had been kidnapped along with Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a driver, who had been beheaded earlier.

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 NATO's International Security Assistance Force, killing two of the men and wounding another, the force 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 ISAF. 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.

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