- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber struck a convoy of NATO troops and Afghan police Thursday in northern Afghanistan, killing seven police officers and wounding at least 11 people.

A Canadian helicopter, meanwhile, went down in southern Afghanistan. No one was injured, and the Taliban claimed it shot the aircraft down.

The suicide bombing occurred in the morning in Kunduz province’s Imam Sahib district, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. In addition to the deaths, six police and five civilians were wounded, it said.

No NATO troops were killed in the bombing, said Maj. Michael Johnson, a NATO forces spokesman. He said some NATO forces were wounded, but he declined to say how many or how seriously.

The vehicles were stopped in preparation for an operation in the area, and the killed police officers were standing outside of their trucks as they mobilized, said Abdul Rahman Aqtash, deputy police chief of Kunduz province.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to the Associated Press. The insurgent group regularly launches attacks against military forces or government workers as part of their campaign against the government.

Kunduz and other northern provinces have become increasingly violent in recent months as insurgent activity has spread into areas beyond the militants’ longtime bases in the south and east of the country. This expansion of militant attacks has happened as the United States and its allies are rushing thousands of reinforcements to try to turn back the Taliban. The focus of U.S. and NATO operations has been in the ethnic Pashtun south.

On Tuesday, New Zealand suffered its first combat death of the Afghan war during a Taliban ambush in one of Afghanistan’s most peaceful areas, the central province of Bamiyan.

The Canadian helicopter went down Thursday afternoon in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district, a volatile area near the main city of Kandahar.

The helicopter “made a hard landing” near Armarah village and then caught fire, Maj. Johnson said. All five crew members and five passengers aboard were recovered unharmed, he said.

A Taliban spokesman responsible for the south, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, told the AP by telephone the helicopter was shot down with a rocket.

A shopkeeper said he heard a loud bang and ran out of his store. “I heard something like an explosion, so I ran out and saw the smoke in the air and the helicopter falling. It hit the ground, and then there was a huge blast,” Abdul Mateen said.

He and others ran to the field where it crashed and said fire had engulfed the helicopter. Those inside began shooting at the crowd so they ran away, Mr. Mateen said.

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Heidi Vogt in Kabul contributed to this report.

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