Kabul suicide bomb kills 4 Afghans, 1 US soldier

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KABUL, Oct 6 (Reuters) A Taliban suicide car bomb killed four Afghan civilians and one US soldier in an attack on a US convoy in Kabul today, officials said.

It was the third suicide bomb attack in the Afghan capital in eight days, and comes as Taliban insurgents say they are in the middle of an offensive to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

''A routine convoy operation here in Kabul today was hit by a suicide, vehicle-born, improvised explosive device,'' said US military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Clint Larson. ''One US soldier was injured in the attack. He has since died of his wounds.'' Two large, black Chevrolet four-wheel drive vehicles were hit by the blast, witnesses said. One of the vehicles lay on its side engulfed in flames, the other received minor damage.

''I can see fire and smoke coming from the foreign vehicles,'' said one witness, Ghiasuddin Barez. ''The explosion took place about 100 metres (yards) in front of me. There were two black vehicles on fire and people running and screaming.'' The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Four Afghan civilians were killed and five wounded in the blast, the Interior Ministry's Counter-Terrorism chief said.

''It is very difficult to prevent such attacks,'' the chief Abdulmanan Farahi told a news conference. He said Afghan police and foreign forces had increased the number of checkpoints and patrols in Kabul to tackle the threat of suicide bombs.

Most of the suicide bombers were foreigners, he said -- either Arabs, Chechens or Pakistanis.

FIVE POLICE ALSO KILLED Witnesses saw a US soldier lying wounded on a stretcher and receiving first aid. There were no other foreign troops wounded in the incident, Larson said.

''I was sitting just over there reading a book,'' said another witness, Zekeria Jan. ''Suddenly, I heard a bang. I was shocked and fell to the ground. I saw two cars hit by a suicide bomber. Then I was unconscious.'' After suffering heavy casualties in conventional battles, Taliban rebels have grown increasingly reliant in the last two years on suicide attacks aimed at convincing ordinary Afghans their government and its Western backers cannot provide security.

Afghanistan is going through its worst period of violence since US-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

In a separate attack, five Afghan police were killed by a roadside bomb north of the eastern city of Khost, a provincial health official said.

But some 50 Taliban rebels, along with four commanders surrendered to government forces and had joined the reconciliation process in the province of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, the provincial governor said.

Ghazni, previously considered largely safe, has seen rising violence this year with Taliban insurgents kidnapping 23 South Koreans there in July. The Taliban killed two of the Koreans, but freed the other Koreans a month later.

''I guarantee within one month, there won't be any Taliban in Ghazni,'' the governor told a handover ceremony.

REUTERS SKB PM1420

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