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7 NATO soldiers slain in blasts in Afghanistan

Aide says Taliban killed translator

A journalist recently held a photograph of Ajmal Naqshbandi, the kidnapped translator who was beheaded by the Taliban. A journalist recently held a photograph of Ajmal Naqshbandi, the kidnapped translator who was beheaded by the Taliban. (Fraidoon Pooyaa/Associated Press/File)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan yesterday left seven NATO soldiers dead, the alliance said, as its forces continued an anti-Taliban offensive in the world's most fertile opium-producing region.

It appeared to be the biggest combat loss for foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2005.

Six troops died and one was injured when one of the bombs struck their vehicle, the alliance said in a statement. Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada confirmed they were Canadian troops, Canadian Press reported.

A separate roadside bomb killed one NATO soldier and wounded two, NATO said.

Officials did not release the nationality of those soldiers and did not give details or say where exactly the attacks took place.

The fatalities underline how virulent Afghanistan's Taliban-led resistance remains, more than six years after a US-led invasion drove the hard-line militia from power for harboring Al Qaeda.

The attack on the Canadians appeared to inflict the worst toll on foreign troops in a single combat incident since a US helicopter crashed in Kunar in June 2005, after apparently being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Sixteen US troops died.

Separately, a purported spokesman for the Taliban said the kidnapped translator for an Italian journalist was beheaded yesterday in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan government confirmed the death.

Ajmal Naqshbandi, a freelance journalist and translator, was kidnapped March 5 in southern Afghanistan along with journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a driver.

The driver was beheaded. Mastrogiacomo, who worked for the daily La Repubblica, was released March 19 in a much-criticized swap for five Taliban militants.

The Taliban made a similar demand in return for Naqshbandi's release.

"We asked for two Taliban commanders to be released in exchange for Ajmal Naqshbandi, but the government did not care for our demands, and today, at 3:05 p.m., we beheaded Ajmal in Garmsir district of Helmand Province," said Shahabuddin Atal, who said he was a spokesman for regional Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah.

"When we demanded the exchange for the Italian journalist, the government released the prisoners, but for the Afghan journalist, the government did not care," Atal said.

Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, said the Taliban executed Naqshbandi on behalf of Al Qaeda .

"Once again, the Taliban showed that they are following the steps of terrorist networks," he said.

US officials also condemned the translator's execution.

"This barbaric killing reminds us of why the United States and NATO are in Afghanistan in the first place: to help the good people of that country defeat the Taliban extremists and their Al Qaeda allies," said Gordon Johndroe, President Bush's national security spokesman.

In the eastern Paktika Province yesterday , two Afghan guards were killed and five wounded during a four-hour firefight with Taliban militants near the border with Pakistan, according to the US-led coalition, which is operating separately from the NATO-led force.

Militants fired mortars and a rocket on a coalition checkpoint in the village of Kakakhel. Troops returned fire and called in an air strike, leaving two militants dead and three others wounded, the statement said.

Also yesterday, in the eastern Khost Province, a gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle opened fire on Afghans working for NATO's International Security Assistance Force , killing two of the men and wounding another, the force said in a statement.

And in the eastern Nangarhar Province, a suicide car bomber blew himself up next to a US-led coalition convoy, said Ghafor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief. One soldier was lightly injured, a coalition statement said.