US chopper down, 3 US-led soldiers killed in Afghan attacks

US military spokesmen confirmed that Taliban rebels shot down a US helicopter in central Afghanistan Monday, while three US-led soldiers died in suicide and roadside attacks elsewhere in the country, officials said, reported dpa.

The helicopter crew engaged with Taliban fighters on the ground in Wardak province, about 50 kilometres west of Kabul city, US military spokesman Major Johan Redfield told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

He said the chopper was hit by "enemy fire" but none of the 10-member crew was killed.

The engagement was still ongoing, Redfield said, but he declined to provide any details, including whether the soldiers suffered injuries.

A Taliban spokesman in the area, Ahmad Baheer, said their forces shot down the helicopter with rocket-propelled grenades, killing all aboard.

He said their fighters had surrounded Afghan and international forces in the area.

Wardak province has been the scene for heavily Taliban activities since the beginning this year. Afghan officials have admitted that the militants had consolidated their positions in the province and were edging closer toward the capital city.

In another incident, a US-led soldier was killed when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in western Afghanistan on Monday afternoon, the US military said in a statement.

The nationality of the deceased soldier was not disclosed in the statement. Most of the soldiers operating under the coalition command are from the US.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber in police uniform blew himself up inside a police headquarters in northern Afghanistan, killing two soldiers serving with the US-led coalition and an Afghan child. Eight people, including police officers, were wounded.

"Two coalition soldiers were killed and three wounded in an attack in northern Afghanistan," a spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan said.

The spokesman would not reveal the nationalities of the victims, but Jaweed Basharat, a spokesman for the police chief of Baghlan province, where the attack took place, said earlier that one US soldier was killed and two were wounded in the blast.

Five Afghan police officers were also injured in the blast, while a child succumbed to his injuries in the provincial hospital, Basharat said.

The suicide bomber tried to enter the police chief's office in Puli Khumri, Baghlan's capital, and blew himself up when he was stopped by the guards.

Governor Abdul Jabar Haqbeen confirmed the attack, saying the bomber planned to target the police chief and his US advisers.

But he claimed the police chief and US military officials were unhurt.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the Islamic fundamentalist militants claimed responsibility for the attack and one of their fighters, named as Abdul Ahad, carried it out.

"Seven foreign soldiers and 12 Afghan soldiers were killed and several others were wounded," Mujahid said by phone from an undisclosed location.

The Taliban often give higher casualty figures for their operations than Afghan government and international military sources.

The attack was a rare occurrence in the relatively peaceful northern region as the Taliban are mostly active in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan along its border with Pakistan.

The attack came a week after a suicide bomber on a bicycle in the neighbouring province of Kunduz killed two German soldiers and five children. Two other German soldiers and two Afghan children were wounded in the attack.

Afghan government officials warned that the rebels have penetrated the region and gained support among the Pashtuns in the region.

The Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, and most of the Taliban fighters are Pashtun.

In another incident, Taliban kidnapped 17 Afghans working with a road construction company in eastern Kunar province, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The militants, who were commanded by local Taliban commander Mullah Nasrullah, released three hostages, but the fate of the remaining workers was unclear, the statement said.

Taliban militants kidnapped and killed 27 passengers from two buses in southern Kandahar province earlier this month.

The militants said that the men were soldiers from the Afghan army, but Afghan officials rejected their claims, saying that the dead men were ordinary people, who were going to neighbouring Iran to work.

More than 4,000 people - mostly insurgents, but also hundreds of Afghan and international forces - have been killed in the Afghan conflict so far this year.

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