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7 NATO Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Attacks, US Attempts Talks With Taliban, June 3-4, 2011

Bomb kills 4 NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan

AP – By Rahim Faiez–

Sat Jun 4, 10:44 am ET

KABUL, Afghanistan –

A roadside bomb killed four NATO service members Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition said. Elsewhere in the east, a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives near a coalition convoy, wounding three Afghan guards.

More than 200 NATO troops have died so far this year in Afghanistan, and Saturday's bombing marked the deadliest day for NATO service members since May 26, when a total of nine U.S. troops were killed.

Earlier, the coalition said two service members were killed Friday in separate (Taliban) attacks in southern Afghanistan, where fighting has picked up since the Taliban launched a spring offensive against Afghan and international troops last month.

There have been reports of heavy fighting in southwest Helmand province between U.S. forces and (Taliban fighters) trying to regain territories they lost in the fall and winter following a surge of 30,000 mostly American troops.

The coalition did not disclose further details of the deaths, or the troops' nationalities, from the attacks Friday and Saturday.

In an email sent to news organizations, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the rare suicide attack by the woman in eastern Kunar province.

The Taliban have made it one of their goals to regain control of the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which are both the wellspring of their movement and the main source of their funding — mostly from the cultivation and sale of opium. They have also increased the number of suicide attacks and assassinations.

Kandahar has remained particularly violent, with a bombing at the university that killed two students, followed by another explosion as police arrived, according to university vice president Hazrat Mir Totakhail. Elsewhere in the city, a high-ranking justice official was shot and wounded by gunmen as he drove to his office, said deputy provincial police chief Sher Shah Yussoufzai.

Police were also investigating the death Friday of an Italian paramilitary Carabinieri in northeastern Panjsher province. Italy blamed the death of Lt. Col. Cristiano Congiu, a member of the anti-drug and security squad at the Italian embassy, on common criminals.

Italian media reports said he was an anti-terrorism expert who died while traveling with an Afghan he knew for years from the same military academy in Italy and an unidentified American woman.

The provincial police chief said a group of three people — an Italian man, an American woman and an Afghan-American — were involved in an altercation on a narrow street in a village there.

The chief, Gen. Mohammad Qasim Janghalbagh, said a teenager brushed up against the woman and an argument ensued. According to Janghalbagh, the Italian allegedly fired his pistol and wounded the youth, aged 18 or 19. Janghalbagh said villagers then fired their own weapons and killed the Italian.

Italian media had similar accounts but said the youth grabbed the woman and slammed her against a wall. Italy's foreign ministry released few details on the death.

He could not provide further details but said the teenage boy was hospitalized.


Associated Press Writer Patrick Quinn contributed from Kabul, Frances D'Emilio from Rome.

Afghan Taliban talks appear to be gaining traction

By Deb Riechmann And Kathy Gannon, Associated Press–

June 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan –

Efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban appear to be gaining traction, with the head of the Afghan peace council saying Saturday that it has been in contact with three factions of the Taliban movement and the U.S. defense secretary predicting negotiations by the end of the year.

Other signs also suggest that discussions with Taliban are moving forward.

Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has reached out directly or indirectly to three Taliban groups, although it's unclear how the efforts by the peace council and the U.S. dovetail, Western officials say.

The United Nations will give a thumb's up or thumb's down later this month on whether to take Taliban figures off a U.N. sanctions blacklist list — a move that could enable prospective intermediaries to travel abroad to hold talks.

One Western official has told The Associated Press that the fate of the only U.S. soldier being held by Taliban has been mentioned in recent preliminary discussions between the Americans and Tayyab Aga, the former personal secretary to the Taliban's leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The U.S. is asking what it will take to win the release of Spc. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who will mark two years in captivity on June 30.

It's not clear whether Aga still has links to Omar or whether Omar supports contacts with U.S. officials. The Taliban have flatly denied that anyone is talking to the U.S. or to the Afghan government, and senior Pakistani security officials say Omar is rigid in his refusal to negotiate.

At a news conference Saturday in the Afghan capital with President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said if the U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces can hold territory captured from the Taliban, and even expand that security "we will be in a position towards the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening to reconciliation."

The Taliban Movement publicly insist they have no interest in negotiating peace so long as foreign troops occupy Afghanistan. President Barack Obama is due to make a decision on U.S. troop reductions in the next couple of weeks.

More than 200 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, including four who died Saturday in an explosion in the east of the country.

He said Karzai has requested that just under 50 Taliban figures be taken off the U.N. sanctions list, which keeps them subject to an asset freeze and travel ban. More than 100 Taliban members are on the list.

The U.N Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions will make a decision on June 16 on the latest tranche of roughly 30 individuals, Barrett said. The Afghan government has provided the committee with extensive dossiers on about 20 of them with information about why it believes these individuals should no longer be sanctioned, he said.

Those with the extensive documentation include Sayed Rahman Haqani, a former deputy minister of mines and public works in the Taliban regime, as well as four members of the peace council. The council members are: Arsala Rahmani, the Taliban's former deputy minister of higher education; Habibullah Fawzi, who once served as the Taliban's ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Faqir Mohammad Khan, a former Taliban deputy minister; and Sar Andaz Qalamuddin, a former top official in the Taliban's hardline religious police — known as the vice and virtue unit.

Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that holds veto power, has been reluctant to approve requests to delist members of the Taliban. Barrett, however, said the Russians could be amenable in some cases.

"Russia will want to look at the cases very thoroughly, but by no means will they refuse to delist anybody and everybody just because they're Taliban," he said.

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is head of the peace council that Karzai set up to facilitate contacts with Taliban, told members of parliament Saturday that in the past five months the council has made contacts with: the Taliban governed by the Quetta shura, named for Pakistan's southeastern city where many of the Taliban are said to live or transit with relative ease; the al-Qaida affiliated Haqqani network; and the group run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Even talks about talks with the Taliban have prompted rising concern from ethnic minorities and women's groups in Afghanistan. They worry that negotiations with the Taliban, comprised mostly of majority Pashtuns, will open a path for the hard-line fundamentalist group to regain power — or exact painful concessions.

Discussions the U.S. is having with Tayyab Aga are still in the exploratory stage, according to the Western official. It wasn't clear whether Aga made the first overture to the U.S. or whether it was the U.S. who contacted him.

Aga has made no commitments, but comments like "Would this help Bergdahl?" have been raised in the meetings, according to the official, who declined to give more specifics.

Aga is just one of several Taliban the U.S. reportedly has approached either directly or indirectly to test their willingness to talk peace, according to Western diplomats. Others include former Taliban information minister Qatradullah Jamal. Lines also are out to representatives of the network run by Hekmatyar and Ibrahim Haqqani, a brother of group leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.

All the Western diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for disclosing details about confidential talks.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official told the AP that so far, the nation's intelligence service has not been asked to approach any of the Taliban groups about peace talks. The official, who also asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said that the United States has had full access to members of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistani custody, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban No. 2.


Gannon reported from Islamabad. Robert Burns traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contributed to this report.

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