KABUL, Afghanistan — Three British soldiers were killed in a suicide attack, and a local reporter for the BBC was found dead Sunday as first lady Laura Bush visited Afghanistan hoping to highlight signs of progress despite a recent surge of violence.
The soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing while on foot patrol less than a mile from their base in Afghanistan's Upper Sangin Valley, the British military said. A fourth soldier was wounded. The deaths brought the British military's death toll in Afghanistan to 100 since the 2001 invasion by the U.S. and its allies.
The head of Britain's armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, and Defense Secretary Des Browne released a joint statement expressing their condolences — and insisting their forces were beating back the insurgent threat.
"Make no mistake, the Taliban influence is waning, and through British blood, determination and grit, a window of opportunity has been opened," Stirrup said.
Thousands of new troops have poured into Afghanistan to try to stabilize the country, and fighting has been fierce in Helmand, the insurgent stronghold where British forces are deployed.
As of Saturday, at least 443 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion that toppled the ruling Taliban.
Last year saw a record level of violence, with more than 8,000 people killed in insurgency-related attacks — the most since the 2001 invasion. Violence has claimed more than 1,500 lives this year.
On Sunday, insurgents attacked a police convoy in Ghazni province, killing 11 police and wounding one, said the province's deputy governor, Kazim Allayar.
In the past two years militant fighters have stepped up attacks on Afghanistan's fledgling police, who have little training or weapons. Last year more than 900 police were killed in militant attacks.
Journalists, too, have faced grave danger from Taliban militants and local strongmen unhappy with negative news coverage amid the increase in violence. The British Broadcasting Corp. said one of its reporters, Abdul Samad Rohani, was found with a gun shot wound to the head in a cemetery on Sunday. He went missing in the town of Lashkar Gar in Helmand province the previous day.
Rohani worked for the BBC World Service's Pashto language service. BBC world news editor Jon Williams called his death "a terrible loss."
"Rohani's courage and dedication have been a key part of the BBC's reporting from Afghanistan in recent years. His bravery — and that of his colleagues — have allowed us to tell a key story for audiences in the U.K., in Afghanistan and around the world," Williams said in a statement from London.
The Helmand provincial police chief, Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, said officials were investigating the death and had not named any suspects.
Taliban insurgents have kidnapped and killed Afghan journalists in recent years, but a spokesman for the militants, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said the Taliban was not behind the Rohani's killing. Ahmadi said that the Taliban did not have any problem with Rohani's reporting and that he was upset about the reporter's death.
Rohani was at least the fourth journalist killed in Afghanistan in the past year.
He was the second journalist working for the BBC to found dead during the past weekend, after gunmen in southern Somalia killed local reporter Nasteex Dahir Farah, who also contributed to other news organizations including The Associated Press.
Also Sunday, militants ambushed the government leader of the Qalandar region in the eastern province of Khost, killing him and three bodyguards, said Gen. Mohammad Ayub, the provincial police chief.
A bomb exploded about 150 yards from a U.N. office in the same province and wounded two people. Ayub said a man carrying the explosives intended to put them under a bridge but they detonated early. The attacker survived but was hospitalized and in serious condition. A woman passing by was wounded.
In a prelude to her trip to the Afghanistan donors conference this week in Paris, first lady Laura Bush on Sunday visited a construction site of a learning center for youngsters that will double as an orphanage. She marveled at how women, who just a few years ago were being forced by the Taliban to shroud themselves from head-to-toe, are now Afghan National Police trainees.
Mrs. Bush is addressing the donors conference Thursday in Paris. France, host of the gathering, has set a goal of raising $12 billion to $15 billion to fund Afghan reconstruction projects through 2014. The United States is looking to contribute about a quarter of that.