The top U.S. operational commander in Afghanistan on Saturday told hundreds of troops at a Veterans Day memorial that American forces are preserving freedom from terrorism just as World War II veterans preserved freedom in Europe and Asia.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley thanked troops gathered at Bagram, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, for pausing to remember veterans who lived and died before them.

"Veteran's Day recalls the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when hostilities ended in the first World War," he said. "And it gives us hope for our 11th hour and our 11th day, when peace will come to all peoples of the world and our wars will stop."

Some 20,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, with about 12,000 of those serving under the NATO flag. At least 288 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion in late 2001 to oust the Taliban regime for hosting Usama bin Laden.

"Veterans pay a tough price," Freakley said. "They've lost buddies in fighting. They've sacrificed so that others may enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, without threat or intimidation of violence. Veterans have earned this day."

In violence on Saturday, police in the southern province of Kandahar conducted an operation against suspected Taliban militants, killing three of them, said Dawood Ahmadi, the governor's spokesman.

Italy's foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, told reporters that Italy would like to see an international conference on Afghanistan among neighboring countries, donor nations and military contributors to seek a comprehensive approach to Afghanistan's problems.

Italy has about 1,600 troops in Afghanistan.