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Afghanistan Explosion Kills 4 U.S. Servicemen


WASHINGTON — Four American servicemen were killed and another was wounded in Afghanistan on Monday when a rocket they were trying to disarm exploded, U.S. defense officials said.

The 107-millimeter rocket was part of a cache of weapons confiscated in recent days by U.S. forces near the southern city of Kandahar.

The explosion brought to 37 the number of Americans killed in the Afghan theater since the U.S. military campaign began Oct. 7. The last time an American was killed was March 28, when a Navy SEAL stepped on a land mine near Kandahar.

The wounded soldier in Monday's incident was evacuated to a U.S. medical facility near Kandahar, said Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. The names of the dead and wounded had not been released.

"This tragic event highlights that, even when not actively engaged against enemy forces, that our service men and women remain at risk as they perform their mission around the world and particularly in Afghanistan," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

While the more than 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan have not engaged in any major military operations in recent weeks, they have come under attack a number of times while patrolling their positions or searching the countryside for Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts.

And U.S. forces are continually in danger of accidental death in a country pockmarked with unexploded land mines and other ordnance from decades of war, and littered with weaponry left behind by fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The latest deaths came on the heels of three skirmishes during the weekend, an indication that with warmer weather, Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters may be gearing up to fight again, Myers said.

"We do expect more Al Qaeda activity as the snows melt and it gets warmer," Myers said.

On Saturday, gunmen ambushed a U.S. Special Forces unit traveling by convoy with Afghan fighters on a nighttime patrol, triggering a shootout that ended only after the Americans called in an AC-130 helicopter gunship to drive off the advancing attackers. Several enemy fighters were killed in the attack. The location was not disclosed.

Before the ambush, the Special Forces team had found several weapons storage sites containing rockets, mines, explosives and antiaircraft artillery pieces. Pentagon officials said they believed the arms had been used for training.

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