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Four German soldiers killed in Afghanistan’s north

Four German troops were killed Thursday in fighting in northern Afghanistan’s Baghlan province, a one-day toll that is likely to stoke further antiwar sentiment in an important European ally.

Though NATO spokesmen would not release details of the deaths, German defense officials said the four soldiers were killed in fighting that broke out after a German armored vehicle was attacked. Five German soldiers were wounded in the clash.

In the southern city of Kandahar, a suicide car bombing killed at least six people at a compound used by foreign companies. Three of the dead were foreigners and three were Afghan soldiers, said Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is the half brother of President Hamid Karzai and head of the Kandahar provincial council.

Once considered one of the less volatile sections of the country, Baghlan and the rest of the north have become new trouble spots for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces locked in an 8-year-old war with Taliban insurgents and their allies. The Taliban and other insurgent groups have widened their reach in the north, and have been bolstered by Al Qaeda-linked Chechen and Uzbek fighters.

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Most of the 4,500 German troops in Afghanistan are deployed in the north, where they make up the bulk of the West’s military force. The deaths Thursday come just 13 days after three German soldiers working on bridge-building and mine-clearing projects were killed in an intense fight after they came under attack by as many as 200 insurgents in Kunduz province.

According to statistics compiled by the independent icasualties.org website, 42 German troops have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war in 2001.

Public support in Germany for the Afghan conflict has dropped sharply in recent months. A poll published this week in Stern magazine reported that 62% of respondents said they wanted German troops to return home. In 2005, only 34% of Germans backed a pullout.

On Wednesday, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg made a visit to Afghanistan to express Germany’s support for the military mission.

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“It is important for me to show the soldiers on the ground that the political leadership stands behind them,” Guttenberg said.

The deadly car bombing in Kandahar targeted the offices of two international contracting companies and the Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative, a U.S.-funded program that tries to strengthen ties between the Afghan national government and the country’s villages and towns through small community projects.

Hours before the late-night blast, a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in Kandahar, injuring at least eight people. The Noor Jehan Hotel is used by foreign news organizations, but there was no indication that any of those hurt were foreigners.

This spring and summer, U.S. troops are expected to mount a major offensive in Kandahar province, a key stronghold for insurgents and where the Taliban movement began.

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alex.rodriguez @latimes.com


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