Bomb 'kills five US troops in southern Afghanistan'
A huge roadside bomb killed five US troops in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, in the deadliest attack on NATO-led forces this year.
"Five American soldiers were killed at about noon when their armoured vehicle hit a powerful roadside mine in Maiwand district," General Abdul Razeq, Kandahar province's police chief, told AFP.
The troops died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed in a statement without specifying the nationalities of the victims, in line with coalition policy.
The attack came four days after three British soldiers were killed in a similar blast in the neighbouring province of Helmand.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday's deaths but Taliban militants frequently use roadside bombs against US-led foreign troops and their Afghan allies.
The militants launched their "spring offensive" a week ago, opening a crucial period for Afghanistan as its security forces take the lead in the offensive against insurgents fighting to topple the US-backed government.
All NATO combat missions will finish by the end of next year. The 100,000 foreign troops deployed across Afghanistan have already begun to withdraw from the battlefield.
More than 11 years after the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, efforts to seek a political settlement ending the violence have so far made little progress, but pressure is growing ahead of the NATO withdrawal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday named James Dobbins as the new US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying Dobbins would "continue building on diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion".
Including Pakistan in any peace negotiations is seen as essential as militants use the border region between the two countries as a safe haven to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, is also widely accused of providing covert support for the militants.
The Taliban have rejected holding any peace talks with the Afghan government, saying that President Hamid Karzai is a puppet of the US.
Karzai has clashed repeatedly with the US this year over Afghan sovereignty and the security transition, but he has also been caught up in a scandal alleging that CIA cash delivered to his office was used to buy off warlords.
The president said on Saturday the money -- reportedly packed in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags -- was used for health care and scholarships, and that full receipts are issued to the Americans.
Anger in Washington over the CIA payments has focused on the cash fuelling endemic corruption that the US and other donor nations say is a prime threat to Afghanistan establishing a functioning state system.
As NATO troops pull back, casualties are rising among the poorly-trained and inexperienced Afghan soldiers and police tasked with bringing security to some of the country's most volatile areas.
On Thursday eight Afghan police were killed in a Taliban bomb attack in Logar province outside the capital Kabul.