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Bomber kills himself, soldier

SHARE Bomber kills himself, soldier

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber blew himself up in a taxi next to British peacekeepers patrolling the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding four.

It was the second suicide assault on foreign troops in as many days, marking an escalation in the Taliban-led rebellion — and increasing its parallels with the insurgency in Iraq. In response, U.S. forces in Afghanistan are planning a spring offensive, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The British soldier died after a yellow and white taxi carrying 200 pounds of explosives blew up near his open-topped Land Rover at about 11 a.m. in the eastern outskirts of Kabul, said Nayamatullah Jalili, intelligence chief at the Interior Ministry. He said an Afghan was also killed — apparently the assailant.

"The preliminary investigation suggests it was a suicide attack," Jalili said.

Four other British soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, Col. Mike Griffiths, commander of the 300-strong British contingent in the NATO-led peacekeeping force, said at a news conference in its fortified headquarters. He declined to identify any of the British soldiers or their unit.

An Afghan translator also was wounded.

"These attacks will strengthen our resolve to fight terrorism and free our peace-loving country from its effect," President Hamid Karzai said in praising troops for helping secure the capital.

The bomb exploded as a somber ceremony was under way in Kabul to honor the Canadian soldier killed by a bomber Tuesday. A Taliban spokesman claimed the Islamic militant group was behind both attacks, declaring the start of a nationwide campaign of suicide bombings.

International troops and Afghan security forces closed off the scene of Wednesday's bombing on a busy road near the main British and German peacekeeping barracks.

German military trucks with machine-gunners barred traffic, while British Gurkhas — troops from Nepal — stood guard among shipping containers used as storefronts along the road.

Soldiers and investigators swarmed the Land Rover, its front ripped open and badly charred. There was little left of the attacker's car, which British military spokesman Capt. Tom Smith said exploded as the Land Rover was passing.

"There was an axle with a wheel and a lot of twisted metal," Smith said.

The blast blew out the windows of a nearby bathhouse, sending people scurrying from the showers, said Zulgai, 20, a worker there who uses only one name.

Mullah Hakim Latifi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said one of its members carried out the attack, at first intended for the base of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

"His target was the ISAF base. But he saw British troops so he exploded the car there," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We are compelled to attack the foreigners to defend our country, religion and honor."

His claim couldn't be independently verified.

Latifi also claimed Taliban responsibility for Tuesday's attack on the Canadian patrol, which killed one Canadian and wounded three Canadian troops and eight civilians, including a Frenchman.

Seeing that operations in Afghanistan haven't succeeded in shutting down terror networks, the Pentagon is planning a "spring offensive" and ordered troops to start working on logistics and getting equipment in place, a Washington official said.

Another Pentagon official declined to discuss the possibility that troops would extend operations to the Pakistan side of the border, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and top lieutenants have long been said to be hiding, but he said that might have to be the next step.

He said Defense Department officials believe current operations in Afghanistan are not having the effect they want on the terrorist network and they are determined to do more.

Officials already have said they hope to finally capture bin Laden this year, a development that could benefit President Bush in the November election.

More than 140 people have been killed and injured since the Jan. 4 ratification of a new constitution that took effect this week, and which the Western-backed Afghan government hopes can unite the country after nearly a quarter-century of fighting.

Until now, the suicide attacks on foreign soldiers that have proven so deadly in Iraq have been relatively rare in Afghanistan.

In June, a suicide attack on a bus killed four German soldiers and wounded 29. Last fall, the commander of the international force, German Lt. Gen. Goetz Gliemeroth, warned that a "new species" of terrorist had infiltrated the capital.

In another echo of Iraq, the U.S. military has acknowledged that militants are increasingly using roadside bombs against troops. A U.S. Marine was in intensive care at a military hospital in Germany on Wednesday, two days after his vehicle was hit in eastern Afghanistan.