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U.S. Soldier Slain on Afghan Road Project

Times Staff Writer

Guerrillas killed an American soldier working on a road construction project Thursday, causing at least the sixth American fatality in Afghanistan over the last week.

A second soldier was wounded when insurgents firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed a convoy of U.S. military engineers in Paktika province, a military statement said. Neither soldier was identified.

Taliban and allied guerrillas have stepped up attacks in advance of Afghanistan’s first parliamentary election since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The vote is scheduled for Sept. 18.

“This is a tragic event for all of us,” said Army Brig. Gen. Jack Sterling, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “Our engineers have been working in this area to improve the infrastructure so that Afghans living here have a better roadway system.

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“It’s disheartening that these militants would attack the very people that are trying to build a better life for the people of Afghanistan.”

The ambush took place near a construction project on a road between the towns of Sharona and Orgun near the border with Pakistan.

Insurgents have killed at least 42 U.S. troops this year. About 900 Afghans have died in the fighting over the same period, many of them civilians who were targeted by militants.

On Tuesday, an elderly woman was shot to death in her home in a southern village. The Taliban said it had executed her for spying for the U.S., a claim that local officials dismissed. The attackers reportedly captured her son and fled.

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U.S. and Afghan officials say offensive operations in eastern and southern Afghanistan are defeating the insurgency, which they insist will weaken further when Afghans elect a parliament Sept. 18.

Lt. Gen. Moin Faqir, the Afghan military’s operations commander, said the attacks were increasing because the Taliban and their allies were getting desperate after failing to block Afghanistan’s new constitution, last year’s presidential election and the steady buildup of a national army.

“Our enemies have become crazy now, and they want to increase their attacks because Sept. 18 is the last nail in their coffin,” Faqir said.

The guerrillas’ fate may depend on whether Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf delivers on his repeated promises to make sure militants don’t use his nation’s territory for attacks on its neighbors.

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The U.S. military has praised Musharraf’s efforts. But U.S. forces chasing guerrillas across the border in “hot pursuit” have killed Pakistanis and Afghans in at least two attacks, in May and July. Pakistan’s government protested what it called border violations.

Pakistan’s government recently announced that it was closing 32 refugee camps that house about 105,000 Afghans in the Pushtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The camps, which were set up after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, are to be emptied by the start of September.

Afghan officials suspect that some of the camps are being used as recruitment and training centers for the insurgency. The refugees have the option of returning to Afghanistan or moving elsewhere in Pakistan.

As an incentive to return to Afghanistan, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is offering grants between $3 and $30 to cover transportation and $12 per person to help refugees establish new homes.

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When other camps closed at the end of June, most of the 30,000 residents chose to return to Afghanistan, the agency said.


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