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US soldier killed, 3 hurt in ambush in Afghanistan

Deadly attack is third in week

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American soldier was killed and three US troops were wounded when insurgents ambushed a patrol yesterday in eastern Afghanistan, the third deadly attack on US forces in the border region in a week.

Seven militants were killed in fighting set off by the ambush of US-led coalition and Afghan forces in Paktika province, a US military statement said. The militants fled after the fighting and American forces deployed attack aircraft in pursuit.

Fighting in Paktika has killed five US troops in the past week. The province is next to the Pakistani border, and militants based in tribal regions on the other side of the mountainous frontier often cross into Afghanistan to launch attacks. Seventeen suspected Taliban militants were reported captured in the area Monday.

Two US soldiers wounded in yesterday's attack were taken to a nearby base for treatment, while the third was treated and returned to duty, the statement said.

''Our patrols of coalition and Afghan forces are relentless in the pursuit of the enemy," Army Brigadier General Jack Sterling said. ''We are deeply saddened by the loss of our soldier and will honor him by continuing to take the fight to the enemy."

The death brought to 149 the number of US military personnel killed in and around Afghanistan since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

Even though US military commanders express optimism about progress toward making Afghanistan secure, there has been a sharp rise in bombings, shootings, and other violence since winter's snow melted in mountain passes used by insurgents.

Security forces have hit back hard, killing more than 200 suspected militants since March, US and Afghan officials said.

In Rome yesterday, an Italian aid worker arrived home after being held hostage in Afghanistan for more than three weeks. Clementina Cantoni said she had been treated well, but she expressed concern for detainees still being held.

Cantoni, 32, was released Thursday in Kabul, the Afghan capital, where she had been abducted by armed men May 16. She was working for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families.

In Kabul, the Afghan government said four people detained because of alleged links to the kidnappers had been questioned and released.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was among those gathered at Ciampino military airport in Rome to greet Cantoni. She was taken to Rome's courthouse, where antiterrorism prosecutors questioned her.

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