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Bomb Kills Four Intel Agents in Southern Afghanistan

A roadside bomb exploded Saturday as a vehicle carrying Afghan intelligence agents drove by in a southern province, killing four agents a day after police clashes left eight suspected Taliban dead.

Separate fighting in southern Kandahar province, a former Taliban stronghold, killed a member of the U.S.-led coalition and two insurgents, the American military said in a statement. The statement did not identify the service member except to say he was not an American.

About 25 countries have forces in the coalition. The United States and Canada are the largest contributors, and a Canadian military spokesman said the dead service member was not from his contingent.

However, the French Defense Ministry said a special forces officer was killed Saturday while fighting Taliban militants. The officer was the second French soldier killed in action in Afghanistan.

The ministry did not elaborate. France has had 200 special forces officers in southeast Afghanistan since 2003, the ministry said.

Saturday's attack occurred about 10 miles south of Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency and the booming illicit trade in opium and heroin, said Asadullah Sherzad, provincial commander of the National Security Directorate. The bomb was detonated by remote control as the men drove toward the city in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The victims included a district intelligence chief in Helmand province, he said.

Police rushed to the scene, but the assailants had fled by then. A manhunt was launched, but no one was arrested, the commander said. He declined to say who he believed was responsible for the attack.

Helmand has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks, most of which is blamed on Taliban rebels and drug traffickers.

Saturday's violence came a day after police killed eight militants and arrested 10 in the province, while gunmen on a motorcycle killed a Helmand district chief.

Britain is deploying some 3,000 troops this year to Helmand to tackle the burgeoning insurgency and drug trade.

Militants have stepped up attacks across southern and eastern Afghanistan in the past year, raising fears for this country's future just four years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban for hosting Usama bin Laden.

At least 216 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion, according to the Defense Department.