Two dead in attack in Afghanistan; U.S. helicopters make emergency landings

An attacker blew himself up in a failed assault on coalition forces in volatile southern Afghanistan, while two U.S. helicopters made emergency landings during combat operations and three American soldiers were injured in a bomb blast, officials said.

The attempted attack against the coalition forces occurred Sunday as the convoy passed through the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai said the explosives detonated when the attacker was hit by a motorbike, whose driver was killed.

The blast also killed the attacker and wounded two other people, U.S. military and Afghan police officials said.

One of the wounded was a coalition soldier, who was treated for minor injuries and returned to duty, said Lt. Mike Cody, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. The convoy and the injured soldier were Canadian, Lt. Col. Steve Borland told The Canadian Press.

U.S., Afghan and Canadian officials called the attacker a suicide bomber, but a police officer at the scene said the man was apparently trying to throw a grenade.

In neighboring Zabul province, three U.S. soldiers were injured Sunday when a homemade bomb detonated near their convoy during combat operations near Deh Chopan, the U.S. military said Monday. They were in stable condition.

Also Sunday, five American troops and an Afghan soldier suffered relatively minor injuries when two helicopters made emergency landings during combat operations. All the injured were in stable condition, the U.S. military said.

The five U.S. soldiers were hurt when a CH-47 Chinook landed north of Kandahar, suffering serious damage, the military said. The other helicopter made an emergency landing at a forward operating base in Uruzgan province, which borders both Kandahar and Zabul, injuring the Afghan soldier, the military said.

A self-described Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, claimed the group had shot down one of the helicopters north of Kandahar with a rocket, but he also said that all aboard were killed. Yousaf often calls media outlets to claim responsibility for attacks with information that proves exaggerated or untrue. His ties to the Taliban leadership are unclear.

The U.S. military said it was investigating the causes of the incidents.

Also Sunday, Esmatullah Muhabat, a former militia leader elected to parliament in September, was shot dead in a gunfight that apparently erupted during a dispute over firewood. Stanekzai said three of Muhabat's followers were also killed in the clash.

Some 20,000 coalition troops are fighting Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Increased violence has left nearly 1,500 people dead this year _ the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

In addition to rocket attacks, roadside bombings and ambushes in the rugged south and east that often target coalition and Afghan forces, rebels have turned to suicide bombings and other attacks in cities including the capital, Kabul.

The violence has cast a shadow over efforts to sow stability and democracy in a country wracked by war and chaos.

September's parliamentary elections marked the final step on an internationally backed path to democracy. But the election of former warlords and others involved in past violence has raised concern that internal tensions may continue to hobble the country, AP reported. V.A.

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