US: 5 American troops die in blast in eastern Afghanistan

Monday, June 7, 2010

US: 5 US troops die in eastern Afghan blast

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. command says five American soldiers have been killed in a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan.

Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks Monday — one a bombing in the south and the other by small arms fire in the south.

Three other NATO soldiers from other countries were also killed in attacks Monday, bringing the day’s death toll for the alliance to 10. No further details on any of the attacks were released.

In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul says an American contractor died in a suicide attack against the police training center in the southern city of Kandahar.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Bombs and bullets killed three NATO soldiers and an American contractor in southern Afghanistan on Monday, as President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman defended his decision to remove two of the country’s top security officials.

The Sunday dismissals drew fire from some political figures linked to the alliance that helped the U.S. oust the Taliban in 2001 and who fear the shake-up will play into the hands of the insurgents at a critical point in the war.

Senior U.S. officials, caught by surprise by Sunday’s announcement, stressed that it was an internal issue for Afghanistan.

The political maneuvering came as violence flared in the south, where U.S. commanders are planning a major operation in the Taliban’s heartland of Kandahar. Washington hopes Kandahar will be a turning point in the nearly nine-year-old insurgency.

The American contractor, who was not identified, and another person were killed when a team of three suicide bombers attacked the gates of the police training center in Kandahar, the U.S. Embassy said. Afghan officials said three police were wounded.

Afghan officials said one bomber blew a hole in the outer wall, enabling the other two to rush inside. But they were killed in the gunbattle that followed.

Elsewhere in the south, two NATO service members were killed in an explosion during one operation and another died in gunfire during another, the coalition said in a statement. It did not provide nationalities. The U.S. command said the service member killed by gunfire was American.

As fighting rages, the Afghan government is stepping up a program of reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.

Karzai last week won endorsement from a national peace conference, or jirga, for his plans to offer incentives to lower-rung militants to lay down their arms, and to formulate an approach to Taliban leaders. Washington is skeptical talks should be opened with the Taliban until they have been weakened on the battlefield.

For their part, the Taliban call Karzai a U.S. puppet and say there will be no talks while foreign troops are in Afghanistan.

The two officials who resigned each had deep backgrounds as strong opponents of the Taliban.

Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was a senior figure in the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. oust the Taliban regime in 2001. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar served in Afghanistan’s Communist-era intelligence agency and fought mujahedeen opposed to the Soviet occupation.

Members of the former alliance, made up mostly of northern ethnic minorities, accused Karzai of using a feeble excuse — the failure to stop militants firing at the jirga even though insurgents were the only casualties — to force the pair to resign when far greater lapses have gone unpunished.

“I would say it’s a hasty and irrational decision by a president of Afghanistan who has deprived his own government of professional capacity to combat the insurgency,” said Abdullah Abdullah, a key Northern Alliance leader and former foreign minister.

“The only party that will benefit is the Taliban,” Abdullah, who lost to Karzai in last year’s fraud-marred presidential election, told The Associated Press.

Karzai left Afghanistan on Monday to attend an international conference in Turkey, canceling a scheduled news conference. His spokesman, Waheed Omar, insisted the security lapse was the only reason for the resignations and said they were a lesson in accountability for others to learn.

“This could have been national chaos, a national crisis” if the jirga attack had succeeded, Omar told reporters. “Somebody had to take responsibility for this.”

Sarajuddin, another influential former Northern Alliance figure who uses only one name, called that explanation a cover for Karzai’s desire to get rid of two people who may question parts of his reconciliation plans, including the possible release of Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill.

“The resignations were just an excuse; Karzai did not want them,” Sarajuddin said. “It’s a political game.”

The decision underlined ethnic divisions within the government, as some Pashtun leaders backed Karzai’s version of events. Karzai and most of the Taliban are Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.

“I am very happy for the removal of these people. It is a good lesson for other Afghan officials that if they are asleep, they should wake up,” said Arsla Rahmani, a lawmaker who was former deputy education minister when the Taliban were in power.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking to reporters on his way to London, stepped carefully when answering questions about Saleh’s and Atmar’s abrupt resignations, saying it was for the Afghans to decide.

“I would just hope President Karzai will appoint in the place of those who have left people of equal caliber,” Gates said.

U.S. officials had singled out the pair by name as examples of competent leadership in a government riven by corruption and patronage. Both Saleh and Atmar accompanied Karzai on a trip to Washington last month to patch up strained ties with Obama’s administration — a point that reinforced the surprise of Sunday’s announcement.


Associated Press Writers Amir Shah, Rahim Faiez, Heidi Vogt and Matthew Pennington in Kabul, Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, and Anne Gearan, traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, contributed to this report.

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