Two Italian soldiers were killed and four wounded by a roadside bomb that exploded while they were on patrol south of Kabul on Friday, a military spokesman said.

Two military vehicles were patrolling together when one of them was hit around 5 p.m., said Maj. Luke Knittig, a Kabul-based spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The attack apparently occurred in Kabul province, just south of the capital on a main road, he said.

"The soldiers that were attacked in this case were exercising duties to assist with security," he said. "The very knowledge that there are security threats in the Kabul area is why they were out."

CountryWatch: Afghanistan

Taliban-inspired militants have stepped up attacks in recent months, particularly in Afghanistan's southern provinces, the heartland of the hardline Taliban regime before its ouster by U.S.-led forces in late 2001. Attacks closer to Kabul are rarer.

Italian forces until Thursday commanded NATO's 10,000-strong security forces and still make up a sizable portion of ISAF troops, who are now under British control.

The explosion originally injured six soldiers, but the injuries to two of them were so severe that they died, Knittig said. The four others were evacuated to a medical facility.

"Their deaths is something that obviously saddens us, and it makes us take extra notice of who might have done this," Knittig said.

Also on Friday, a roadside bomb blamed on Taliban militants killed two members of a prominent provincial political family and a bodyguard in southern Afghanistan, while two police died in a separate attack, officials said.

The Afghan army, acting on a tip, raided a Taliban hide-out in southern Afghanistan, triggering a gunbattle that left four rebels dead, a senior army official said Friday.