20 insurgents killed in Afghan firefight

NATO has said its troops killed more than 20 insurgents in fighting that broke out after a patrol came under fire in eastern Afghanistan.

In the southern city of Kandahar, a suicide bomber targeting a district chief killed two passers-by including a child, and wounded at least nine people on Saturday, authorities said.

The gunbattle between NATO forces and insurgents took place in the Tagab district of Kapisa province, where coalition forces called in air support after their patrol came under fire, NATO said. It claimed Taliban commanders were among the more than 20 insurgents killed.

A day earlier, more than five insurgents were killed in a three-hour firefight in the same district following sniper fire on Afghan and international forces manning a checkpoint, NATO said. The coalition did not say what nationality the international troops were, but French forces are stationed in the area.

About 3850 French troops are deployed in Afghanistan, mainly in Kapisa and the Surobi district north and east of Kabul.  A French soldier was killed Friday after a reconnaissance mission came under fire in the neighbouring district of Alasay in Kapisa, bringing the total number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 51.

Violence has been on the rise across much of Afghanistan, with the southern provinces of Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban – and Helmand seeing much of the fighting. NATO forces have poured troops into both provinces.

Separately, French authorities in Paris said a French noncommissioned officer had been killed and another soldier wounded in Tagab Saturday. NATO said a second coalition service member died in a roadside bombing in the south. It did not release the person’s nationality.

Another soldier died of a noncombat injury in the north of the country on Friday, NATO said. The German military said one of its soldiers, a 21-year-old, died of a gunshot wound that appeared to be the result of an accident at a military post in Baghlan Province, but the matter was being investigated.

More than 670 international troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her defence minister and the military’s chief of staff made a surprise visit to their nation’s troops in northern Afghanistan. Germany currently has nearly 4700 troops serving in Afghanistan and plans to start gradually withdrawing in late 2011.

The German delegation visited Kunduz, where Germany has a base.

She later continued to another German base at Mazar-i-Sharif, also in the north, where she met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and General David Petraeus, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Before meeting Karzai, she said she planned to discuss administration and corruption with the Afghan leader.

“The progress here is not as we would envision,” she said.

Ms Merkel thanked troops in Kunduz for their “extremely dangerous” deployment.

“You are embroiled in battles of the kind one has in war,” Ms Merkel said.  “That is an entirely new experience for us.”

Later, in Mazar-i-Sharif, she said: “We haven’t known something like this since the second World War”.

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