Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan

KABUL (AFP) – Two NATO soldiers were killed and three others wounded in a battle with the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan that also left up to 21 militants dead, the military force and local officials said Friday.

A separate NATO air strike on a Taliban hideout in south-central Uruzgan province also killed 18 militants in the latest insurgency-linked violence to hit the nation, local officials said.

The troops were killed in eastern Kunar province late Thursday when their joint Afghan army and ISAF patrol was ambushed with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the force said.

The patrol fought back and called in air support, a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.

“Two service members were killed and three others were wounded during a firefight with insurgent forces,” the statement said, adding that the injured were in stable condition after being evacuated for medical treatment.

NATO does not release the nationalities of its casualties, leaving that task to their home countries, but most of the international soldiers deployed in Kunar province are American troopers.

The deaths bring the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year to 188 as the 37-nation ISAF and a separate US-led coalition battle an increasingly bloody insurgency waged by Taliban militants.

Australia confirmed one of its troops was killed by small arms fire while on patrol on Thursday in Uruzgan province.

Australia has some 900 troops serving in Afghanistan, the bulk of which have been deployed to Uruzgan to assist a Dutch-led reconstruction operation.

The deaths came as the US led calls this week for NATO allies to contribute more combat troops and aircraft to help fight the insurgency, as troop casualties undermined support for the mission at home.

The calls were made as NATO defence ministers met and debated the reluctance of some nations to deploy troops to southern Afghanistan, the former stronghold of the Taliban regime and now the focus of insurgent attacks.

There are around 12,000 US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan fighting the insurgency alongside around 40,000 NATO-led forces and about the same number of Afghan soldiers.

ISAF said it had recovered the body of one militant from Thursday’s attack but the mountainous region made it difficult to confirm if more were killed.

Provincial governor Shalizay Didar said 21 militants had died.

But a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said only three militants were killed, while claiming responsibility for the attack on behalf of the group.

Meanwhile, NATO forces bombed the Taliban hideout in Uruzgan overnight, acting on a tip off, the district governor told AFP.

“Eighteen Taliban were killed in the aerial bombing of NATO and their bodies are still there,” governor Fazel Bary told AFP.

In another incident, two roadside bombs struck vehicles in southern Kandahar province on Friday, killing at least one civilian and injuring seven others, the provincial police chief told AFP.

Sayed Aqa Saqib said the militants had planted six bombs along the road in the Panjwayi district. Police discovered and defused four, but two others later exploded, he said.

International military forces helped to remove the extremist Taliban from government in late 2001 and are fighting the insurgency led by the hardline group and joined by other radical factions.

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Lucky Dube:”Do you ever worry about leaving home and coming back in a coffin?”

Friends and family of murdered South African reggae star Lucky Dube have attended his memorial service and a protest march in Johannesburg. A BBC correspondent says there was a near-riot as fans struggled to get into the club where the memorial was held. The singer was gunned down late last week in what police described as a botched car hijacking attempt. Mourners spoke of the cruel irony that an artist who spoke out against crime should himself have been a victim. Lucky Dube was a reggae music icon and one of South Africa’s most loved and respected stars.

Poignant Dube’s song Rastas Never Die was played at the service at a well-known musical venue in central Johannesburg. The BBC’s Peter Greste, at the memorial service, said it was a poignant reminder, if one were needed, of the price South Africans have paid for the levels of violent crime. Among the mourners at the packed service was the president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, who quoted the lines of Dube’s own song Crime and Corruption. “Do you ever worry about your house being broken into? Do you ever worry about your car being taken away from you? Do you ever worry about leaving home and coming back in a coffin? So join us and fight this,” he said. Coinciding with the memorial was a protest march organised by the Creative Worker’s Union. Their general secretary, Oupa Lebogo, said tackling crime was everyone’s responsibility. “This is a collective effort. We can make a difference if we all work together, and I believe that it is up to individuals that we stop being spectators when wrong things happen in front of us,” he said.

Life celebration South Africa’s crime wave cost an estimated 20,000 lives in the past year. But our correspondent says the memorial was less about protest than it was a traditional African celebration of a life well lived. Dube, 43, was killed on 18 October in a Johannesburg suburb as he dropped off his two teenage children at a relative’s home. Police have arrested five men in connection with the killing. His murder has been lamented by South African President Thabo Mbeki and by thousands of fans across the world. Dube will be buried on Sunday at what the family called a small and dignified ceremony.

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