- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb exploded under a wooden bridge as a convoy of armored Humvees was crossing it yesterday, killing four U.S. soldiers and wounding three others in the deadliest assault on American forces in Afghanistan in nearly two months.

The troops were participating in an offensive against militants, who have vowed to subvert legislative elections on Sept. 18 — the next step toward democracy after more than two decades of war and civil strife.

Rebels also stepped up attacks elsewhere, wounding two U.S. Embassy staffers in a roadside bombing in the capital and killing a senior pro-government cleric and a colleague in the country’s south.

Although the U.S. military operation has killed or captured dozens of rebel suspects, American troops also have been killed, including 13 this month. U.S. and Afghan officials have warned that violence may worsen ahead of the voting.

The bomb tied to the bottom of the small bridge exploded as the last of three Humvees slowly crossed, said Bashir Ahmad Khan, the government chief in Zabul province’s Daychopan district.

“It was an enormous remote-controlled bomb. The American vehicle was tossed into the air and off the bridge. It’s totally destroyed, as is the bridge,” he said.

The three wounded troops were hit by shrapnel from secondary explosions as they tried to pull the four soldiers out of the burning Humvee, the U.S. military said. The three were evacuated to a nearby base and were in stable condition.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the U.S.-led coalition’s operational commander, said the blast would “strengthen, not weaken, the resolve” of the troops to safeguard the elections.

It was the deadliest attack on American forces since June 28, when 19 service members were killed in eastern Kunar province when a Navy SEAL team was ambushed and a helicopter shot down.

Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, 187 U.S. service members have been killed in and around Afghanistan, including 64 during a rash of insurgent attacks in the past six months, which have left about 1,000 others dead.

The bloodshed has led the military to rush in an airborne infantry battalion of about 700 troops that was on standby in Fort Bragg, N.C., boosting the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about 20,000. About 3,100 troops from 19 other nations also are members of the coalition.

A separate NATO-led peacekeeping force has brought in reinforcements ahead of the elections and now numbers about 10,500.

A helicopter carrying NATO peacekeepers crashed in a western Afghan desert and another flying with it made an emergency landing Tuesday, killing 17 Spanish troops and wounding five. Investigators have found no evidence that the helicopters were downed by hostile fire.

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