KABUL, Afghanistan – A bomb ripped through a U.S. patrol in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing two American soldiers and wounding another, a reminder of the country’s insecurity after a newly resolved hostage drama.
The troops were attacked near the town of Deh Rawood, 250 miles southwest of Kabul, in Uruzgan province, where the military has clashed repeatedly with Taliban militants.
“We’re sorry to say that two U.S. soldiers were killed and one U.S. soldier was injured,” American Maj. Mark McCann said. The wounded soldier was in stable condition at a nearby American base.
A total of 110 soldiers have died since the United States attacked Afghanistan’s former ruling Taliban and their al Qaeda allies in late 2001, according to U.S. government figures.
The toll exacted by Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts defying a U.S. force currently numbering about 18,000 pales next to the more than 1,200 Americans killed in Iraq.
But there is concern Afghan militants are copying their Iraqi counterparts from the already widespread use of roadside bombs to the Oct. 28 kidnapping of three foreign election workers which sent shudders through Kabul’s expatriate community.
The first of the trio, who were set free in Kabul on Tuesday morning after 27 days in captivity, flew out of Afghanistan on Wednesday for a family reunion in the Philippines.
Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo looked tired but happy as they posed for photographers with President Hamid Karzai in his presidential palace and said they looked forward to sharing the “wonderful feeling” of freedom with friends and relatives back home.
“The hope of getting back together with them kept us going,” Flanigan told reporters. “We thank them for their love, their prayers and their friendship. We are looking forward to joining our families and returning to our work.”
Nayan boarded a U.N. plane at Kabul airport clutching a copy of former President Clinton’s memoirs. He was expected back in Manila on Thursday, but his elder sister, Grace, said Nayan wanted no fanfare on his homecoming.
“He wanted to come home as quietly as possible. That’s what he wants because he is also aware that somebody is also held in captivity,” she said, referring to Filipino accountant Robert Tarongoy, who is being held by insurgents in Iraq.
The two women were expected to depart from Afghanistan in the coming days.
Armed men seized the three, who helped organize Afghanistan’s landmark October presidential election, on a busy Kabul street on Oct. 28, the first such abduction since the Taliban’s ouster.
A Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, and said the government agreed to release 24 jailed comrades to stave off a threat to kill them.
Officials and the U.S. military insist they released no one and that no ransom was paid. American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the release was a “major defeat to terrorists who wanted to export an Iraq-style of hostage-taking in Afghanistan.”
Still, the United Nations and aid groups said security would have to improve if they were to press ahead with the painstaking task of rebuilding a country ravaged by more than two decades of war and increasingly dominated by a booming drug trade.
Karzai, who presented the three with carpets and even a traditional green robe from his personal wardrobe said his nation was “ashamed” at their abduction.
“Afghanistan is famous in the world for hospitality toward its guests,” he said. “May Afghanistan be protected from getting such a bad name.”