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Guerrilla bomb on Afghan bus kills 10

Coalition begins offensive in south

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A bomb hidden on a bus carrying Afghan laborers from a US base exploded this morning, killing 10 as the US-led coalition launched a new offensive against insurgents.

The bus was carrying the workers from the Kandahar Airfield, the coalition headquarters in southern Afghanistan, said Abdul Hakim Hungar, the deputy provincial police chief.

The blast destroyed the bus and left body parts scattered on a road in downtown Kandahar city, a former Taliban stronghold.

The bus blast occurred just before more than 11,000 Afghan, American, British, and Canadian troops began ``Operation Mountain Thrust" against Taliban fighters today, the US military said.

Even before the sweep began, 26 militants were slain in an attack on mountain positions in Paktika Province, said provincial Governor Akram Khelwak. Helicopter gunships and artillery fire supported ground troops; one Afghan police officer was wounded.

In volatile Helmand Province, US troops in sweltering heat built sand barriers and guard outposts around a small forward operating base. Soldiers around the base's perimeter fired rounds from 119-millimeter howitzers into the vast desert.

``We do it so they know it's here, and they know it could be pretty bad for them," said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Toner, commanding officer at the base in the Musa Qala district, 180 miles from the base in Kandahar.

Afghan soldiers will form the largest contingent. About 2,300 US special forces and regular troops also will take part in the operation, which will include an effort to win the hearts and minds of southern Afghans with reconstruction and humanitarian aid projects.

In Helmand, an insurgent stronghold and the country's largest source of opium used to produce heroin, Taliban fighters have surrounded some districts, Governor Mohammed Daoud said by telephone from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

``They threaten people. They kill people. And sometimes they cut their heads off," he said. ``So this operation is intended to clean them out."

Daoud predicted the offensive would be more effective than previous operations against insurgents because it is better organized.

The offensive also is intended to make areas of the province more secure for aid workers and reconstruction projects. The surge in fighting has left hundreds dead.

The US military said yesterday that a US soldier died Tuesday during a Taliban attack on a patrol in Helmand Province, where guerrillas and coalition forces have fought several fierce battles in recent weeks. Army Sergeant Russell Durgin of Henniker, N.H., died from small-arms fire.

Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

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