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Blast kills four US soldiers on patrol

Separate battle targets Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A roadside bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan killed four American soldiers yesterday, while two NATO soldiers died elsewhere and a battle in the country's poppy- growing heartland killed more than 50 suspected militants.

A purported Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said the militia has extended its deadline for the lives of 23 South Korean hostages until this evening.

The bomb blast came against US soldiers patrolling the eastern province of Paktika, Governor Mohammad Akram Akhpelwak said.

Norway said one if its soldiers was killed in Logar province, and NATO said another soldier was killed in the south. The nationality was not made public.

The six deaths bring to 114 the number of Western soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, including 54 Americans, according to an Associated Press count.

In Helmand province, the US-led coalition and Afghan soldiers "routed" a large number of Taliban fighters in a two-day battle, the coalition said.

During the battle in Sangin district, the insurgents attempted to shoot down a coalition aircraft and attacked soldiers with a suicide car bomb, the coalition said in a statement.

Coalition aircraft dropped four bombs during the engagement, and Afghan forces counted "more than four dozen" insurgents killed, it said.

Coalition and Afghan forces "only engaged legitimate military and enemy targets to minimize the potential of Afghan casualties," said US Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi , who says he speaks for the Taliban, said the militants extended the deadline for 23 Korean hostages another day after the Afghan government refused to release any of the 23 Taliban prisoners the insurgents want freed.