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Four U.S. soldiers killed in Afghan violence

Two NATO troops also are slain. More than 50 suspected militants die during a two-day battle.

July 24, 2007|From the Associated Press

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers Monday in eastern Afghanistan, two NATO soldiers died elsewhere and a battle in the country's poppy-growing heartland killed more than 50 suspected militants.

The bomb hit U.S. soldiers conducting a combat patrol in Paktika province, Gov. Akram Akhpelwak said.

Norway said one of its soldiers was killed in Lowgar province, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said another soldier, whose nationality was not released, was killed in the south.

The six deaths bring to 114 the number of Western soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, including 54 Americans, according to an Associated Press count.

In Helmand province, the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan soldiers routed a large number of suspected Taliban fighters in a two-day battle, killing more than 50, the coalition said.

The battle in Sangin district saw the insurgents attempt to shoot down a coalition aircraft and attack soldiers with a suicide car bomb, the coalition said in a statement.

Coalition aircraft dropped four bombs during the engagement, it said.

A purported Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said the hard-line militia had extended until this evening its deadline for a prisoner swap involving 23 South Korean hostages.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said the militants extended the deadline another day after the government refused to release any of the 23 Taliban prisoners the insurgents want freed.

The militants have pushed back their ultimatum on the South Koreans' fate at least three times. Afghan officials in Ghazni province, where the Koreans are being held, have met with the militants and are negotiating over the phone, but little progress appeared to have been made.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the South Koreans "should be released immediately. They pose no threat to anybody. We stand with the South Korean government while they follow this matter closely."

Deputy Interior Minister Abdul Khaliq said Afghanistan was not prepared to make a deal "against our national interest and our constitution," though he did not explicitly rule out freeing any prisoners.

Meanwhile, Ahmadi said the militants were still holding one German and four Afghan hostages despite the fact that he claimed Saturday that they had been shot and killed.

Though some of Ahmadi's statements have turned out to be true, he has also made repeated false claims.

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