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Bombs kill 5 foreign troops in Afghanistan

STEPHEN GRAHAM   06/21/08 03:23 PM ET   AP

Afghanistan Soldiers

KABUL, Afghanistan — Roadside bombs killed five foreign troops and five government soldiers Saturday, part of a surge of violence that has made Afghanistan's battlefields deadlier for foreign forces than those in Iraq.

The U.S. administration already has highlighted the Iraq-Afghan comparison to lobby its NATO allies _ with limited success _ to commit more forces to Afghanistan for a conflict likely to test the West's stomach for a long, grinding war.

Violence continues unabated despite the more than 60,000 foreign troops in the country and fresh pledges of financial aid to President Hamid Karzai's struggling government.

Last year, more than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks _ the most since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion _ and violence has claimed more than 1,700 lives so far this year.

Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department official and now an Afghan expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the rising casualties would sharpen the focus on Afghanistan in the U.S. presidential race.

"What's being brought home is the nature of the conflict. It's in the true fashion of a guerrilla operation and we're not prepared for it," Weinbaum said.

In Saturday's deadliest incident, a roadside bomb hit a coalition convoy west of the main southern city of Kandahar, killing four troops and wounding two others.

Coalition spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fanning said gunmen opened fire on the damaged vehicles and three Afghans also were hurt. He declined to release the nationality of the troops, who were involved in training Afghan forces.

To the east, a Polish soldier from the separate NATO-led force died when a bomb hit his patrol after midnight in Paktika province. Jacek Poplawski, a Polish military spokesman in Warsaw, Poland, said four other soldiers were wounded.

In a separate incidents, attackers detonated bombs and opened fire on vehicles carrying Afghan troops in Zabul and Kunar provinces, killing five soldiers and wounding three.

The bombings capped a bloody week. NATO and Afghan troops backed by warplanes on Wednesday attacked up to 400 Taliban militants who had seized the strategic Arghandab valley, within striking distance of Kandahar.

Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said Afghan troops had counted the bodies of 94 insurgents and were holding 29 suspects.

About three-quarters of the militants were foreigners, and villagers said they heard them speaking Arabic and Urdu _ the main language of Pakistan, Karimi told reporters in Kabul.

NATO has sought to play down the threat to Kandahar, the Taliban's former capital, and urged citizens not to panic.

However, Karimi said the Taliban had planned to seize the whole province. The militants took Arghandab when the army was busy shoring up Kandahar after 400 militants escaped from the city's jail last week, he said.

The military success in Arghandab was tempered by concern at how easily militants had infiltrated a region dominated by one of the region's strongest tribes. NATO says its rapid response in tandem with the Afghan army was a great success.

But foreign troops remain vulnerable to roadside bombs.

A total of 31 foreign troops have died this month, including four British soldiers, four American troops and another member of the U.S.-led coalition killed earlier this week, according to an Associated Press tally.

In Iraq, where violence has decreased in recent months, 19 have died, though the 200 killed there so far this year is double Afghanistan's total.

Afghan and NATO officials suspect recent efforts by the government of neighboring Pakistan to negotiate peace deals with militants based there has allowed the groups to focus their fire on Afghanistan.

But Karimi also warned against underestimating the Taliban's underlying strength, demonstrated by their conquest of Afghanistan in the 1990s and ability to bounce back after their ouster.

He urged Afghanistan's Western backers to speed its training of Afghan police and expand the army beyond its planned ceiling of 70,000.

"We are not fighting with a simple man who has just come out of a mosque ... he is well trained and armed and is an expert in guerrilla warfare," Karimi said.

___

Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Noor Khan in Kandahar, and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.

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Filed by Nicholas Sabloff  |