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Minibus bomb kills 8 at base in Kandahar

KABUL, Afghanistan - An explosives-packed minibus blew up at the entrance of a joint NATO-Afghan base in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing six NATO troops and two Afghan soldiers as they prepared to head out on patrol.

NATO has claimed improvements in security after months of raids, patrols and strikes on insurgents in Kandahar province, but yesterday's blast, the deadliest attack on coalition troops this month, shows the area is still far from safe.

The assault comes days ahead of a major White House review of its Afghan strategy following President Barack Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 American reinforcements in a bid to reverse gains by the Taliban since they were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Afghan officials said the suicide attack took place in the Zhari district of Kandahar.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the blast, saying the insurgent group was retaliating for attacks on its fighters in the area in recent months.

U.S. and Afghan forces launched a major operation in September to secure Zhari, a lush farming region of irrigation canals and grape vineyards that the Taliban have used as a staging area for attacks in nearby Kandahar city and other parts of the south.

In yesterday's attack, a suicide bomber drove a minibus into the entrance of the coalition base just as troops were preparing vehicles to move out on a morning patrol, said Gen. Abdul Hamid, the Afghan army chief for Kandahar province.

"They were leaving the compound and at that moment, the minibus attacked and they hit right at the entrance of the base," Hamid said.

NATO did not disclose the nationality of the six service members killed. Most coalition forces in the south are American.

More than 680 international troops have been killed so far this year, well above the 502 killed in the whole of 2009.

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