Two NATO, 2 Afghan soldiers die in market suicide attack


KHOST: Two NATO and two Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide attack at a market close to a joint military base in the east of the country on Sunday, coalition and local officials said.
An unknown number of Afghan soldiers and troops with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were also injured in the blast that tore through the bazaar in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia.
“There was some sort of explosion near the operating base in Gardez district… Two ISAF service members were killed,” NATO spokesman Master Sergeant Jason Haag told AFP.
He did not reveal the nationalities of the dead in line with ISAF policy, but nearly all foreign troops in the area are American.
Gulam Dastagir Rostumyar, the deputy provincial police chief, said the attack took place on a flea market outside the Afghan military base that sits alongside a US installation.
“Two Afghan National Army soldiers were killed and four were wounded,” he said.
General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, an Afghan defence ministry spokesman, said at least five Afghan soldiers were injured.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed contacted AFP from an unknown location to claim responsibility for the suicide bombing.
The latest deaths took to 677 the number of coalition troops killed so far this year, by far the bloodiest toll in the nine-year war, according to an AFP tally based on that tracked by the independent website.
Last year 521 foreign troops were killed.
The insurgents principally use suicide attacks and home-made bombs to attack Afghan security forces and more than 140,000 US-led troops fighting a nine-year counter-insurgency campaign mostly in the south and east of the country.
A week ago 13 policemen were killed and 14 others injured when two suicide attackers disguised in uniforms blew themselves up inside Paktika province’s police headquarters, also in the restive east.
The east of Afghanistan is deeply embroiled in the rebels’ campaign to return to power as it lies across the border from Pakistan’s tribal areas, believed to be the base for the Taliban-allied Haqqani network.
A suicide attack by a Jordanian triple agent at the CIA base in Khost province last December killed seven Americans and his Jordanian handler, marking the CIA’s worst loss in a single day in more than 25 years.
US and NATO forces hope to bring the number of Afghan soldiers up to 170,000 along with 134,000 policemen by October next year.
US military leaders back the government’s plan for the Afghan police and army to assume responsibility for security by 2014, with the timetable agreed at a landmark NATO summit in Lisbon last month.