4 NATO soldiers, 10 civilians killed in Afghan violence

KANDAHAR: Twin car bombs and multiple other attacks killed four NATO soldiers and 10 Afghans today, taking foreign troop deaths this year well above the level for the first two months of 2009.

The NATO deaths in southern and western Afghanistan mean 105 foreign soldiers have been killed in the country this year -- twice the number in the same period last year.

A string of bomb blasts struck the south within 24 hours in an increase in Taliban-linked violence more than two weeks after thousands of US-led troops launched a major offensive in Helmand province.

On Monday morning, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a NATO convoy crossing a bridge in Kandahar province, which neighbours Helmand, sending an armoured vehicle plummeting into the river below, an AFP reporter said. The Afghan interior ministry said the attack killed "four of our innocent civilian compatriots".

Sergeant Jeff Loftin, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said one foreign soldier was killed and "a few" injured but did not disclose their nationalities.

Hours later, a station wagon packed with explosives blew up outside the provincial police headquarters in Kandahar city -- the spiritual capital of the Taliban -- killing one person and wounding 16 others, police said. "In the remote-controlled car bomb explosion... one civilian working for the police headquarters was killed," said deputy provincial police chief Fazel Mohammad Shairzad. Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location that his organisation was responsible for both bombings.

ISAF later released a statement reporting three more deaths today -- two in an attack in the west and one in a shooting in the south. Another five Afghan civilians were killed by roadside bombs in Helmand today, the interior ministry said.

One mine exploded under a car near the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, killing three civilians, and two others died in a similar attack in Gereshk district, it said.