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3 U.S. troops, others dead in Afghan blasts

KABUL -- Two explosions in eastern Afghanistan, one targeting an American convoy, killed three U.S. troops, an Afghan interpreter and at least 24 other Afghans yesterday, defying what the military had described as a trend of diminishing violence this year.

Western officials had been citing decreased civilian casualties in the first four months of the year as a sign that the insurgency is waning and Afghan forces are increasingly showing the ability to safeguard the country. But deaths have been spiking in recent weeks.

The blasts, one in the city of Khowst, the other in a rural district of Lowgar province, occurred at the lunch hour, when many people are on the streets.

The Khowst explosion, aimed at a convoy carrying coalition troops, was triggered by a suicide bomber on a motorbike, the Interior Ministry said. The ministry put the Afghan death toll at 16, including two police officers, and the injury count at 37, including two women.

Western military officials said three Americans and a translator died in the explosion, and the U.S. Embassy condemned what it called a "murderous campaign against all" by the Taliban and other insurgents.

Khowst, the capital of the province of the same name, lies just across the border from Pakistan's tribal areas, where the Haqqani network, a virulent Taliban offshoot, is based. The Haqqanis are active in Khowst and neighboring provinces, but other insurgent groups operate there as well. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Hospitals and clinics in Khowst were overwhelmed by the number of casualties, and besieged by panicked relatives of those who were injured and killed.

Khowst city remains volatile even though there is a major American-run base on its outskirts. That installation, known as Camp Salerno, came under a fierce, concerted insurgent attack June 1 that left dozens of troops seriously injured.

At the time, the NATO force disclosed little about the incident, including the fact that insurgents had set off a huge truck bomb at the gates of the installation, causing about 100 injuries, some three dozen of them serious. The Washington Post first reported the actual severity of the attack, an account that was subsequently confirmed by Western military officials.

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