Bomb Kills 3 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 10, 2009

KABUL, Jan. 9 -- A homemade bomb killed three U.S. soldiers in the southeastern province of Zabol on Friday, less than 24 hours after two American soldiers died in a suicide bombing at a busy produce market in neighboring Kandahar province, officials said.

The five deaths brought to 637 the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the extremist Taliban government in late 2001, according to various monitoring groups. More than 400 soldiers from other coalition forces have also been killed.

The attacks coincided with the arrival in the region of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), 11 days before he is scheduled to be sworn in as the U.S. vice president. Biden, who landed in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, late Friday, told President Asif Ali Zardari that the United States regards Pakistan as an "important ally and partner" in fighting terrorism.

Pakistan is embroiled in a tense confrontation with neighboring India, also a major U.S. ally, over allegations that a Pakistan-based Islamist group was behind the three-day siege in the Indian city of Mumbai in November that left more than 170 people dead. India has suggested that Pakistani state agencies were involved, which Zardari and other officials have vehemently denied.

Biden and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) are expected to travel to Afghanistan in the next several days. In recent months, Biden has publicly expressed frustration with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, which is widely regarded as weak and corrupt. Karzai, in turn, has grown increasingly critical of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

The two senators are expected to press Pakistani and Afghan authorities for tougher commitments to the battle against Islamist extremism as the United States prepares to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to bolster the protracted war there against Taliban insurgents. The number would nearly double the current U.S. troop presence.

The attacks in Kandahar and Zabol, as well as a third deadly bombing in the southwestern province of Nimruz on Friday, also killed at least a dozen Afghans, including civilian bystanders, police officers and a police official, according to Afghan and NATO officials. Taliban insurgents asserted responsibility for the Nimruz attack, another marketplace suicide bombing.

Also Friday, Paula Lloyd, 36, an anthropologist who had been working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan studying local politics and tribal relations, died in a San Antonio army hospital of severe burns she received Nov. 4 when an Afghan man doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. A colleague of Lloyd's shot the assailant dead.

Despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops working closely with the Afghan army, Taliban fighters have continued to wage a campaign of violence and intimidation throughout the south and into other regions of the country. Taliban fighters now control districts in numerous provinces, including several around the capital, Kabul.

The planned increase of U.S. troops, slated to begin as early as next month, is aimed at securing the areas around Kabul and at aggressively pursuing the insurgency in the southern provinces, where the Taliban movement has strong roots and wields the most power.

Afghan officials, including Karzai, have increasingly criticized U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan over what they see as an excessive use of aerial bombing, leading to numerous civilian casualties. U.S. officials said they hope the added ground strength and closer cooperation with local leaders will enable them to win back popular support and undermine the Taliban.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company