French soldier dies in attack in Kabul - police

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KABUL, Sep 21 (Reuters) A suicide car bomber targetted a convoy carrying NATO troops today in the Afghan capital, killing one French soldier of the alliance and wounding several Afghan civilians, police said.

The attack in the western outskirts of Kabul city came hours after some 40 militants were killed in Garmsir district of southern Helmand province in an operation by Afghan government and U.S.-led troops, according to the US military.

It said there were no casualties amongst civilians in Garmsir.

In Kabul, senior police official Ali Shah Paktiawal said of the convoy blast: ''It was a suicide car attack against NATO, and one of its French soldiers has been killed.'' NATO confirmed its convoy was targetted, but said it had no immediate information about casualties.

A Taliban spokesman said the attack was carried out by a member of the group which is fighting to oust the Afghan government and drive out foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has seen a steady escalation of violence over the last two years, to the worst levels since Afghan and US-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Earlier today the alliance had reported six civilians killed during a NATO operation against Taliban guerrillas in southern Afghanistan.

They died in Girishk district of Helmand on Wednesday when British-led forces under NATO's command launched a major operation to clear Taliban from the district.

''We believe that six non-combatants were killed,'' said Major Charles Anthony, a NATO spokesman in Kabul.

Yesterday, one NATO soldier was killed in an ambush in neighbouring Uruzgan province where a day earlier more than three dozen insurgents died in a 14-hour long battle with US-led and Afghan forces, Western military officials said.

The Taliban denied suffering any losses in Uruzgan and said those killed were civilians. There was no immediate independent verification for either sides' account.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue for President Hamid Karzai's government and Western troops stationed in the country.

More than 350 Afghan civilians have been killed during operations by Western forces already this year, according to estimates by Afghan officials and Western aid agencies.

The casualties sparked protests demanding Karzai's resignation and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Karzai, also facing criticism for perceived lack of development, rampant corruption, growing insecurity and booming drugs, has repeatedly urged foreign troops to avoid civilian casualties while conducting operations.

REUTERS JK AS1411

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