Four American soldiers were killed and three others injured Sunday when a roadside bomb exploded under their vehicle in southern Afghanistan, adding to concerns over increasing violence leading up to next month’s parliamentary election.
U.S. military officials said the troops were looking for insurgent forces in the Dai Chopan area of Zabol province in an effort to root them out before the Sept. 18 vote.
“Today’s attack was done with a remote-control bomb that was attached to a wooden bridge,” Mohammed Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said Sunday. “This is a fairly new tactic in Afghanistan and a faceless way of terrorizing people.”
The U.S. military would not confirm whether the bomb was set off by a remote control but did say that a number of secondary explosions caused by the blast injured the other soldiers.
“These types of attacks also demonstrate the enemy’s desperation and cowardice,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, commanding general for the U.S. military. “The enemy knows that he is [in] a race with time, a race that he will inevitably lose.”
The names of the dead were not immediately released.
Zabol, near Kandahar, has been one of the most volatile provinces, and U.S. and Afghan forces as well as the central government in Kabul have struggled to bring it under their control and influence.
The province, dominated by ethnic Pushtuns, was home to many Taliban leaders; many residents’ tribal ties and ideologies remain tight with the ousted extremist militia group, which now leads the insurgency against the government and U.S.-led forces.
More than 180 U.S. service members have been killed in and around Afghanistan since American forces arrived to help drive out the Taliban late 2001. More than a third of those deaths -- 65 -- have come in the last six months; in the last four days alone, seven U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, two soldiers were killed in Kandahar when a bomb detonated underneath their Humvee during ground-assault convoy operations, the military said; they were identified as 1st Lt. Laura M. Walker, 24, of Texas, and Sgt. Robert G. Davis, 23, of Jackson, Mo.
That same day, a U.S. Marine and an Afghan national army soldier were killed during operations against insurgent forces in Kunar province.
In addition to the bombing in Zabol on Sunday, there was violence targeting Americans near the capital. A roadside bomb exploded near a convoy of U.S. Embassy vehicles, wounding two American officials, embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said.
The blast, on the western outskirts of Kabul province, surprised security officials who had not seen much violence in the heavily fortified capital.
“These improvised explosive devices have not appeared much in Kabul until now,” said an Afghan intelligence official who did not want to be identified. “It appears as if this incident was not random.”
In another incident Sunday, gunmen riding a motorbike killed cleric Mawlawi Abdullah Malang in Kandahar province while he was returning home from early morning prayers. Malang is the sixth religious leader to be killed since May in what appears to be a newly revived strategy by rebel forces to tamp down support for the central government and the election process.
The government has worked to bring mullahs under its guidance and has encouraged them to preach about the importance of the democratic process.