- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents killed four American soldiers and wounded three others in separate clashes in Afghanistan yesterday as the war-battered nation celebrated its independence day during an upsurge in violence.

Three American soldiers were killed and three others wounded during combat operations in the Pech district of the eastern Kunar province, said Col. Tom Collins, the U.S. military spokesman. American troops in that area are hunting for Taliban fighters and extremists close to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network in remote mountains hugging the Pakistani border.

A separate attack in southern Uruzgan province killed one American soldier and one Afghan soldier yesterday, said Maj. Quentin Innis, the spokesman for the NATO-led force.

The violence came as thousands gathered to mark Afghanistan’s independence from British rule in 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war. Repeated wars and conflicts have devastated the country of 25 million in the last three decades, with scars still visible on buildings and large swaths of minefields.

In Kabul, Afghan soldiers with American M-16 assault rifles paraded together with police, sportsmen and horsemen in a stadium that was used regularly for public executions during the Taliban’s rule.

President Hamid Karzai told thousands attending a celebration that education was key to protecting the country’s independence amid efforts by militants to undermine his authority.

“Our history proves our bravery,” Mr. Karzai said. “The only thing we need to keep our independence is education.”

Militants have targeted schools, burning 144 to the ground during the past year and forcing another 200 to close following threats against teachers and students, according to officials. More than 200,000 children have been unable to continue their education as a result.

The insurgents claim that educating girls is against Islam and oppose government-funded schools for boys because they teach secular subjects besides religion. Targeting schools is also considered a tactic to shake the authority of the U.S.-backed government.

Meanwhile, a land mine in the country’s restive south killed a local police commander and an ambush by suspected insurgents left a spiritual leader wounded.

The officer was killed when his vehicle hit a freshly planted mine in Sori district of southern Zabul province on Friday, police said.

Separately, suspected Taliban militants wounded Mrich Agha, a spiritual leader, in the southern Kandahar province yesterday. Mr. Agha’s driver was killed in the ambush.

Afghanistan’s southern provinces are bearing the brunt of the worst bout of violence to have rocked the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, as insurgents try to undermine the authority of Mr. Karzai and his government.

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