Blast kills 3 Canadians

KABUL, Afghanistan &

A roadside bomb killed three Canadian soldiers today in a southern Afghan province where separate clashes left 21 suspected Taliban militants dead, officials said.

Also in Kandahar province, police lost control of the remote Ghorak district to the militants hours after retaking a neighboring district, said Esmatullah Alizai, the provincial police chief.

Kandahar borders mountainous Uruzgan province, where fierce fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan and NATO forces has killed more than 100 people since Saturday, including dozens of civilians, according to at least two Afghan officials.

The sustained fighting shows the Taliban remains unbowed more than five years after its ouster, despite the deaths of thousands of militants.

The Canadian troops died when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, said Maj. Gen. Tim Grant, the head of the Canadian troops in the country.

Meanwhile, NATO and Afghan troops clashed with militants in the same province and called in airstrikes, killing the 21 suspected fighters, an official said.

The bodies were found on the battlefield along with weapons and ammunition after the six-hour battle in Zhari district, local mayor Khairudin Achakzai said.

NATO said it was facing a seasonal upsurge in militant operations and dismissed a recent spate of suicide and roadside bomb attacks as "militarily insignificant."

"We find ourselves in the midst of the so-called fighting season, when what we had predicted is taking place: an increase in suicide bombings and more desperate attempts by the enemies of peace and stability to present the illusion that they are stronger than they are," said Lt. Col. Maria Carl, spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

In other violence, assailants ambushed a U.N. convoy on the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, killing two Afghan guards, wounding another and damaging two vehicles, said Jailani Khan, highway police chief for Zabul province.

In the eastern province of Khost, gunmen opened fire Tuesday on people praying in a mosque, killing three and wounding four more, said Wazir Pacha, a provincial police spokesman.

Pacha said the assailants fled from the mosque in the village of Ismail Kheil and that their motive remained unknown.

Violence has claimed a total of about 2,400 lives, including civilians, militants and troops, so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western military and Afghan officials.

Aid agencies warned Tuesday that goodwill toward foreign forces has faded since the fall of the Taliban five years ago because of airstrikes and botched raids by U.S. and NATO troops.

The ACBAR umbrella group of 94 foreign and Afghan aid agencies said foreign forces had killed at least 230 Afghan civilians this year, including 60 women and children.

AP's tally puts the figure through June 17 at 152, while another 169 were killed by insurgents.

It was not clear how the umbrella group &

which includes Oxfam, Save the Children and CARE International &

arrived at its higher total.

Karzai has pleaded repeatedly for international forces to coordinate more closely with Afghan authorities in order to protect civilians near military front lines.

The aid agencies laid much of the blame on U.S. actions, alleging that indiscriminate use of force had resulted in the death of innocents.

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