TWO American soldiers were among at least 21 people killed in Afghanistan amid a spate of Taleban attacks yesterday.
A Supreme Court official, a dozen mine clearers and several national and foreign soldiers were also killed while the Taleban suffered heavy losses.
The bloodshed came as most foreign troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the month, 13 years after the 11 September terror attacks sparked the United States-led invasion.
The two US soldiers died when militants attacked a military convoy, detonating a roadside bomb close to the Bagram air base, near Kabul.
Taleban fighters shot dead at least 12 workers clearing mines in southern Afghanistan and gunmen killed senior Supreme Court official Atiqullah Raoufi as he left his Kabul home. Also in the capital, a bomb ripped through a bus carrying soldiers, killing at least six.
“A suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosives at the door of a bus carrying army soldiers,” said Hashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for the Kabul police chief.
A total of 18 soldiers and civilians were wounded.
The American deaths bring to 65 the total number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year, 50 of them Americans.
Security in Kabul has been stepped up as the Taleban insurgency has vowed to maintain its campaign against government, military and foreign targets. There are concerns among Afghans that the situation can only worsen after foreign forces move to a support role from January.
The US and Nato will leave around 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, with gradual reductions over the coming two years. With the end of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, the residual troops are meant to offer training and support to Afghan security forces that have been leading the anti-insurgency fight while suffering record casualties since the middle of last year.
During recent overseas trips president Ashraf Ghani said he believes Afghanistan needs ongoing financial and military support as the insurgency intensifies and spreads.
The attack targeting the mine-clearing operation struck southern Helmand province, police spokesman Farid Ahmad Obaid said. He said Taleban militants killed at least 12 workers and wounded another 12. Afghan soldiers later began a firefight with the insurgents.
Obaid identified the company working on the project as Star Link.
Mohammad Din, a Star Link manager, separately said 81 workers were at the site when the gunmen attacked.
Afghanistan, which has suffered decades of continuous war, is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
The Halo Trust charity estimates some 640,000 mines have been laid there since 1979 and at least 20,500 people have been killed and wounded by such ordinance since.
Those working on projects to clear mines are often targeted by the Taleban and other insurgents. In April, Taleban fighters killed 12 people working on a mine-clearing project in Logar province.
Ghani condemned the attack on the mine-clearing personnel, calling it inhuman and un-Islamic. “It’s the work of the enemies of Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
The president has rarely made public comments about the violence though he is often pictured visiting the wounded and bereaved in the aftermath of deadly attacks.
He has been criticised for referring to the Taleban as “political opponents” and is pursuing a foreign policy strategy aimed at pressuring Pakistan to curtail its support of insurgent groups that enjoy the protection of its intelligence services.
His decision to sign bilateral security agreements with Washington and Nato, allowing an enduring military presence, has been identified as one reason for the aggravated violence, angering insurgents and their sponsors who had hoped to see an end to foreign participation in the war as it drags on for at least another two years.