Afghan bomb kills five NATO troops

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Five NATO soldiers were killed by a bomb in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the Taliban rejected a US claim to have killed the fighters who shot down an American helicopter killing 38 troops.

The soldiers' nationalities and full details of the blast were not disclosed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) but they were the latest victims of the deadly insurgency's increasing use of crude, home-made bombs.

At least 387 coalition soldiers have now been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by independent website icasualties.org.

That compares to a total of 711 deaths for the whole of last year.

South Afghanistan is the Taliban's traditional heartland and was the focus of a US troop surge from 2010 that commanders say has made significant progress.

However, the Taliban still frequently target foreign forces with crudely-assembled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that strike troops on foot patrol or travelling in armoured vehicles.

From April to June, 3,485 IEDs exploded or were found in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, a 14 percent increase on the same period last year.

Separately, officials said five Afghan police were killed in an overnight clash with the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.

"One of our police posts was attacked in Gereshk last night. Five policemen were killed," said Helmand provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Angaar.

The latest deaths come a week after the Taliban shot down a US helicopter, killing 38 people including 30 Americans, the biggest loss of US life in a single incident since the 2001 invasion.

On Wednesday, US General John Allen, commander of the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan, said the Taliban fighters responsible for downing the helicopter had been killed in an air strike.

But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that was "not true".

"After seeing the enemy statement, we contacted the mujahed (fighter) who shot down the helicopter and he's not dead. He's busy conducting jihad elsewhere in the country," Mujahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Mujahid admitted that four "ordinary" Taliban fighters had been killed in the US air strike but said they were not the ones who shot down the helicopter.

He added that the fighter responsible had now left Wardak province, where the crash took place in the Tangi Valley area of wild, Taliban-infested Sayd Abad district.

The Taliban are known to exaggerate and distort their public statements as part of a propaganda campaign accompanying their 10-year campaign to evict the mainly US foreign troops who ousted them from power in the 2001 invasion.

Citing intelligence, a senior Afghan official told AFP this week on condition of anonymity that the helicopter was brought down in a Taliban trap designed to lure international forces to the scene.

Allen said the Chinook, which was carrying 25 members of the elite special forces, had been sent in as part of an operation targeting a Taliban leader, who is still at large.

"The intelligence that had been generated to this point led us to believe there was an enemy network in the Tangi Valley in the Wardak province, and the purpose of this mission was to go after the leadership of that network," the general said.

When "less than 10" fighters were seen "escaping", the Chinook was ordered in, he said. It was bringing special forces who were to pursue the insurgents.

The CH-47 was then shot out of the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all 38 people on board.

Afterwards, the military said US forces tracked the insurgents responsible, calling in an air strike late Monday with an F-16 fighter.

The insurgents were traced over the weekend to a wooded area elsewhere in Wardak "after an exhaustive manhunt" by special forces, ISAF said.

The air strike killed the "shooter" as well as a Taliban militant, Mullah Mohibullah, as they "were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture", ISAF added.

Elsewhere, two Afghan soldiers were found dead in Logar province Thursday, which borders Wardak in central Afghanistan, after being abducted by insurgents Wednesday, police said.

Chart showing annual total of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan since fighting started 10 years ago.

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