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US soldier among 34 killed in Afghan fighting

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Militants hiding in a vineyard and armed with machine guns ambushed an Afghan Army convoy yesterday, killing four soldiers but losing 15 of their own fighters. Violence elsewhere killed another 15 people -- including a US soldier and two French troops.

The 34 deaths occurred amid some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and reinforced fears of a resurgence of Islamic extremists.

A 24-hour burst of violence killed some 120 people earlier last week, before calming briefly. It erupted again Friday with six militants, an Afghan soldier, and a civilian killed in Helmand Province, the main opium poppy-growing region, where drug profits are believed to fund the insurgency, said General Rehmatullah Raufi, military commander for the south.

Hours later in the same area, insurgents crouching among fields of grapevines and wheat opened fire on a half-mile long convoy of Afghan Army trucks as they snaked their way slowly along a dirt road, he said.

The two sides exchanged fire with machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles for six hours before the insurgents fled on foot and motorbikes, the general said. When it was over, 15 rebels and four soldiers lay dead, while 13 troops were still missing, an army officer said on condition of anonymity.

Militants ambushed another Afghan Army convoy in southern Zabul Province yesterday and four rebels were killed as the troops returned fire, Raufi said.

The US soldier was killed Friday in Uruzgan Province, also in the south, the military said in a statement. Six soldiers were wounded and in stable condition.

Two French special forces officers were killed yesterday while fighting the Taliban in Kandahar Province, the French Defense Ministry said. No other details were immediately available.

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