Three German soldiers wounded in Afghan roadside attack

( dpa )- Three German soldiers from a NATO unit were wounded in a blast from a roadside mine planted by Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Thursday.

The soldiers were patrolling in the Chardara district in the northern province Kunduz, a relatively peaceful area, when the blast occurred, Provincial Governor Mohammad Omar told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa. The attack was confirmed by the German military.

"A mine, which was planted by Taliban militants in Qasab area of the district, hit a NATO forces' tank," Omar said. "The tank was damaged and three German soldiers were seriously wounded."

The German military said the vehicle was a wheeled armoured vehicle called a Dingo that can carry up to eight troops.

Omar said Taliban militants, whose government was toppled in a US-led military invasion in late 2001, were responsible for the attack.

"During the Taliban time, they were very active in this area, and now they still have their loyalists, whom they can use for this kind of attacks," the governor said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in Kunduz. "In Qasab village of Chardara, a NATO tank was blown up by (a) mine, planted on the road by our mujahideen," the group said in a statement posted at a rebel website.

It claimed that the vehicle was "completely destroyed and 13 soldiers inside the vehicle were killed or wounded."

The statement said that the attack was part of a "spring offensive," announced by the militants on Wednesday.

Taliban militants are not very active in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, compared to southern and eastern regions, where the rebels are the most entrenched.

Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said on Thursday in a video conference from NATO headquarters in Kabul that the militants intended to expand their insurgency to the peaceful northern and western provinces of the country this year.

"We are expecting them (Taliban) to rely very heavily on IEDs (roadside bombs) and suicide attacks," Wardak said.

Germany has around 3,500 soldiers in the country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the bulk of them stationed in the North and the capital Kabul.

German authorities have so far withstood pressure by other NATO members - including the US, Canada and Britain - to send its soldiers to the southern region, where forces from other alliance members are fighting the resurgent Taliban.

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