4 U.S. Coalition Troops Killed in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A roadside blast Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan killed four U.S. coalition soldiers and an Afghan, the coalition said.

It did not identify the nationalities of all the victims, but the majority of troops in eastern Afghanistan are American.

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in 2008 already have surpassed the record 111 deaths the U.S. suffered last year. The number of attacks on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan has risen by around 30 percent this year compared with 2007, U.S. military officials say.

The coalition did not say where the Wednesday attack took place in eastern Afghanistan or provide any other details.

The mountainous eastern region borders Pakistan's tribal areas, where Afghan and U.S. officials allege that al-Qaida has managed to reconstitute itself after being driven out of Afghanistan following the 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban from power.

The deaths came the same day U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held meetings in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai and other officials. Gates expressed "personal regret" for recent U.S. airstrikes that killed Afghan civilians, and pledged more accurate targeting in future.

Gates said the U.S. military takes extraordinary precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but added, "It is clear that we have to work even harder."

The issue was propelled to the forefront of U.S.-Afghan relations when an Afghan commission found that an Aug. 22 U.S.-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children. That finding was backed by a preliminary U.N. report.

A U.S. military review found that up to 35 Taliban fighters and seven civilians died in the raid. But after video of Azizabad surfaced showing dead children and dozens of bodies, the U.S. said it would send a one-star general from the United States to investigate.

Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Wednesday that a shortage of international troops in Afghanistan reflects insufficient defense spending across most of Europe. Morin said the problem was that most European countries now rely on NATO for their defense.

"Europe, with the exception of Britain and France, has since quite a long time ago decided to disarm and to not allocate sufficient funding for defense and security," Morin told reporters at a joint press conference with Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon in Canberra.

"The weakness of Europe is typified by what you see in Afghanistan - we have very much a common point of view on this issue," Morin added.

Fitzgibbon frequently criticizes unnamed European countries for not carrying a fair share of the growing military effort in Afghanistan. He said his criticisms of the European military contribution have not been directed at France.


Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Kabul and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)