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Two Italian peacekeepers killed in Afghan bombing

Written by: Staff

KABUL, May 5 (Reuters) Two Italian peacekeepers were killed and four wounded by a roadside bomb near the Afghan capital Kabul today, a spokesman for Afghanistan's NATO-led peacekeeping force said.

Taliban insurgents have intensified their campaign against foreign troops and the government in recent months with a wave of roadside and suicide bombings, attacks and assassinations.

''The four wounded have been successfully evacuated,'' said the spokesman, Major Luke Knittig, adding Kabul police and NATO troops were at the scene.'' Violence in parts of Afghanistan is the worst it has been since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001. Including the two Italians killed today, 20 foreign soldiers have died in Afghan violence this year.

The blast hit a two-vehicle Italian convoy about 20 km south of Kabul, on the main road to Logar province. The wounded were evacuated by helicopter, NATO spokesmen said.

Italy has some 1,775 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Italy handed over command of the force to Britain yesterday.

A Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Hanif, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that Taliban suicide bombers would increase attacks on British troops in the southern Helmand province, and would ''turn the ground red'' with their blood.

Italy is still recovering from last week's killing of three soldiers in Iraq. They were killed by a roadside bomb which struck their convoy southwest of Nassiriya.

''The issue of the price paid by our soldiers for peace and stability is one of the biggest issues, perhaps the biggest one in our country right now,'' Italy's incoming prime minister, Romano Prodi, told reporters.

The security situation in Afghanistan was ''very serious'', he said.

NATO's Afghan force operates in relatively peaceful Kabul, and in the north and west of the country but it is due to expand into the volatile south in July.

Commanders say the insurgents are trying to inflict casualties on foreign forces, as thousands of reinforcements arrive, to sap support for the deployments at home.

BLAST, RAID Violence has been particularly severe in the south, where at least four people were killed today, including two relatives of a member of parliament.

Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, a member of the upper house of parliament, said an uncle, who was a tribal elder, and a cousin were killed in the blast in Kajakai district of Helmand province.

''They were going from their home to the market and on the way a remote-control bomb blew up,'' said Akhundzada, a former governor of the southern province where British forces are being deployed to improve security.

Two policemen were killed and two wounded in a Taliban raid in the Nauzad district of Helmand province, a government official said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility.


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