British Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON
The Associated Press
Friday, September 1, 2006; 3:51 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An insurgent attack killed one British soldier and seriously wounded another Friday in the latest fighting to wrack southern Afghanistan, while suspected Taliban gunmen ambushed and shot dead a district chief, officials said.

Insurgents attacked the British soldiers in the southern province of Helmand at 4 p.m., according to statements from NATO and the British Ministry of Defense. One militant was killed in the fighting. The wounded soldier was evacuated for medical treatment.

Britain has nearly 4,000 troops deployed in Helmand as part of a NATO-led security force battling to bring security to turbulent southern Afghanistan.

Twenty-two British soldiers have died in the country since November 2001, 17 of them in March when the NATO force moved into Helmand, the hub of Afghanistan's world-leading heroin industry.

The province has seen the worst of the recent fighting, during the biggest surge in violence in nearly five years since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces.

Militant supporters of the Islamist militia have stepped up attacks, rendering much of the south and east of the country a no-go zone for civilians. Insecurity has also spread to new provinces, such as Ghazni, where Taliban-led fighters are more active than in the past.

On Friday, suspected Taliban ambushed the chief of the central province's Muqur district, Habibullah Jan, as he traveled by car to the provincial capital, said Abdul Ali Faqari, the Ghazni governor's spokesman. Four of his bodyguards were wounded in the attack.

In the east, a homemade bomb believed planted by Islamic extremists badly damaged a newly built coed school in Paktika province on Friday, a U.S.-led coalition statement said. At the time, no one was inside the school, which was due to open next week.

Taliban militants have attacked scores of schools in an effort to undermine the already-weak government of President Hamid Karzai. The attacks also appear motivated by ideological opposition to girls' education.

Meanwhile in the north, German military police arrested seven suspected insurgents from an SUV that subsequently exploded near the entrance of a military compound in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, a NATO statement said. No one was hurt.

Police dogs had detected the explosives during a search and the area was cordoned off before the blast happened, the statement said. The suspects will be handed over to Afghan authorities for prosecution, it said.


© 2006 The Associated Press