Tuesday, March 2, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | Six NATO service members died Monday in separate attacks across Afghanistan, including a suicide car bomb that targeted an international military convoy as it crossed a bridge in the Taliban-dominated south, the coalition said.

Nine Afghan civilians also died in four bombings in the south, officials said.

The deaths came as U.S. and Afghan forces worked to consolidate control over the former insurgent stronghold of Marjah in the southern province of Helmand, where allied forces are waging the largest combined offensive of the 8-year-old war.

Monday’s suicide attacker waited in a taxi for the NATO convoy to cross the bridge between Kandahar city and the airport, then detonated his explosives, tossing a military vehicle into a ravine, said Inhamullah Khan, an Afghan army official at the site.

A NATO spokesman, Maj. Marcin Walczak, confirmed one service member died in the suicide bombing. He did not provide the nationality.

Four Afghan civilians died in the bridge attack, the Interior Ministry said. Three of the civilians who died were in a car that had pulled over nearby to wait for the convoy to cross the bridge, which the military regularly sweeps for explosives, Mr. Khan said.

In western Afghanistan, two other NATO troops died in a mortar or rocket attack, a military statement said, while another service member was killed by small-arms fire in the south. One service member was killed by a roadside bomb in the south and another by rocket or mortar fire in the east.

Another car bomb Monday outside Kandahar city’s police headquarters killed a civilian employee and wounded nine police officers and six civilians, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said.

Kandahar city is the capital of the province of the same name that is considered the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. It lies east of Helmand province, where thousands of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are conducting an offensive to wrest control of the town of Marjah from insurgents.

Marjah has long been controlled by the Taliban, and the assault is seen as the first step in a multi-month offensive that will eventually target insurgent strongholds around Kandahar city.

U.S. and Afghan forces’ advances in and around Marjah have been hampered by thousands of buried explosives left behind by the Taliban — roadside bombs that kill civilians as well as military forces.

On Monday, a civilian car hit one of the roadside bombs as it entered the city limits of Lashkar Gah, the major town north of Marjah. The blast killed three people, including a 10-year-old boy, said Dawod Ahmedi, spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor.

Another roadside bomb killed two employees of a construction company who were riding in a company vehicle Monday afternoon on a road north of Lashkar Gah district, an Interior Ministry statement said.

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