KABUL, Afghanistan -- Militants clashed with coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan, killing a US Marine and an Afghan government soldier, as violence flared ahead of the nation's key legislative elections, the US military said yesterday.
The clash, in which four Afghan soldiers were wounded, occurred near Asadabad in the volatile eastern province of Kunar, the site last month of the heaviest coalition losses since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, which ousted the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.
US officials have warned that fighting could escalate ahead of the Sept. 18 parliamentary and provincial assembly elections, seen as the next step in building Afghanistan's democracy after a quarter-century of civil strife and war.
Taliban-led rebels have vowed to sabotage the vote, and fighting in the south and the east has led to increasing American casualties as coalition troops mount their own offensives to quell the violence.
The US military also reported that a roadside bomb Thursday killed two US soldiers and wounded two others who were protecting road workers on a US-funded project in southern Kandahar province, a former Taliban stronghold.
Some 183 US service members have been killed in and around Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was toppled. But a surge in violence since winter has killed about 1,000 people in Afghanistan, including 60 American service members.
On Thursday, the new US ambassador in Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, warned that fighting was likely to continue for some time but dismissed fears that militants could prevent the elections. Lieutenant Colonel James E. Donnellan, commanding officer for the Second Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, said the latest losses in Kunar ''will only strengthen our resolve to complete our mission."
General Mohammed Saher Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said that two militants had been killed in the Kunar fighting and two arrested -- one of them seriously injured. He said the operation was continuing.
It was unclear if the clash was linked to an offensive launched a week ago by US forces to flush militants from the province's Korengal Valley.
In late June, the coalition suffered its biggest loss in Afghanistan when three Navy SEAL commandos were killed in an ambush and 16 soldiers sent to rescue them died when their helicopter was shot down.
Yesterday, as Afghanistan marked the 86th anniversary of its liberation from Britain in 1919, after the Third Anglo-Afghan War, President Hamid Karzai described next month's elections as a landmark in the nation's history. Addressing a rally in Kabul, Karzai said Afghanis had a chance to elect representatives to Parliament after ''years of war and disaster."
''The elections are important for the Afghanistan of today and tomorrow," Karzai said. ''We are going to have a new life."