SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS 6 IN AFGANISTAN

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 A suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy near the new Parliament building in the Afghan capital on Friday, police and the coalition said, the first attack in Kabul in the three months since security was increased. 

Police said an Afghan soldier and one member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were wounded in the attack on the city’s outskirts, although ISAF did not confirm one of its troops had been hurt.

Afghan authorities clamped a “ring of steel” across the city before parliamentary elections in mid-September, with checkpoints manned by armed police still in place across parts of Kabul.

While the capital has been relatively quiet, violence across the rest of Afghanistan has reached its worst level since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

Civilian and military casualties are at record levels, despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.

Afghanistan will top the agenda at a NATO summit in Lisbon next week. Washington will also review its Afghanistan strategy in December amid sagging support for the drawn-out conflict.

A police source said Friday’s attack had been carried out by a suicide car bomber. ISAF described the attack as a “vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.” A witness said the mangled remains of the car used in the bombing lay in the middle of the main road near the new Parliament on Kabul’s outskirts, with debris strewn over a wide area.

A damaged ISAF Humvee vehicle was pulled off to the side. An ISAF base is near the site of the blast.

The Taliban had vowed to disrupt the Sept. 18 vote but the ballot went ahead, although attacks were reported across the country on polling day and 17 people were killed.

One rocket fired by insurgents landed in Kabul in the predawn hours of election day but caused no major damage or injuries.

The last serious attack in Kabul was on Aug. 10, when two suicide bombers killed up to five Afghans in a residential area of central Kabul.

One of the suicide bombers blew himself up at the gate of a compound used by foreigners. Saturday will mark the ninth anniversary of the fall of the Taleban regime in Kabul, who were blamed for sheltering Al-Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was en route for Afghanistan on Friday on a surprise visit, his spokesman said. The previously unannounced trip could be Kouchner’s swansong as France’s top diplomat. The 71-year-old former humanitarian leader is widely expected to lose his job next week when President Nicolas Sarkozy reshuffles his Cabinet. “He’ll meet Afghan officials. He’ll be received by President Hamid Karzai to talk about Franco-Afghan ties and the situation in Afghanistan ahead of the NATO summit in Lisbon,” ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

NATO leaders are to meet on Friday and Saturday next week, and Karzai is to be one of their guests. France has around 3,750 soldiers in Afghanistan fighting insurgents and training Afghan forces as part of the U.S.-led NATO coalition, and more than 50 French soldiers have died during the mission.

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