Violence escalates in Afghanistan

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Two French special forces troops and a US soldier were among 34 killed in Afghanistan in a violent upsurge in recent days. General Rahmatullah Raufi, military commander for the southern provinces, said the clash erupted when militants ambushed a military convoy.

Fears of a resurgence of the Taliban have been boosted by a sharp rise in violence in the past few weeks, much of it in Helmand province. Around 120 people died in 24 hours last week. Attacks on Friday have claimed another 34 lives. Officials say the fighting was some of the heaviest since the Taliban were ousted by the US-led invasion in 2001.

The French Defence Ministry said two French soldiers were killed on Saturday in a battle with Taliban forces in Kandahar. France has had 200 special forces officers in south-eastern Afghanistan since 2003. A US soldier was killed and six others wounded after a bloody clash on Friday in Uruzgan province, when a joint patrol encountered Taliban fighters.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks on foreign and government forces recently as NATO increases its peacekeeping force from 9,000 to 16,000 - as they prepare to take over from US forces in the South.

Helmand, the main opium poppy-growing region, has become a major focus of violence. Over the past week there has also been attacks in Zabul province and the western city of Herat. Scattered clashes in the southern provinces in the past four days have killed around 150 people, including Taliban, Afghan police and military personnel and civilians.