Fighting across Afghanistan ahead of the announcement of the final results of landmark legislative elections killed 23 people, including a U.S. paratrooper, a British soldier and two worshippers dragged from a mosque, officials said.
The bloodshed was some of the deadliest since the Sept. 18 polls and highlights the challenges in bringing stability and strengthening the country's nascent democracy four years after the ouster of the Taliban.
Election organizers plan to release the final list of winners in the next few days, Aleem Siddique, an election spokesman, said Saturday. The announcement has been delayed by widespread fraud that undermined the polls' legitimacy.
Human rights advocates warn that at least half of those listed as provisional winners are former warlords or others still linked to armed groups responsible for much of the violence in the past quarter-century of war.
In the latest fighting, a U.S. paratrooper was killed Saturday after his patrol came under fire in eastern Khost province, a U.S. military statement said.
American forces responded with small-arms fire, artillery and air attacks, prompting the militants to flee. It was not immediately clear if any of the assailants were killed.
The death brought to 203 the number of U.S. forces killed in and around Afghanistan since 2001.
Also Saturday, gunmen attacked NATO-led peacekeepers as they patrolled in northern Mazar-e-Sharif city, killing one British soldier and wounding five others, Britain's Ministry of Defense said.
Security forces cordoned off the area and arrested four suspects, said Capt. Michele Cortese, a spokesman for the NATO force in Kabul.
The city has long been considered relatively safe because the Taliban are not believed to operate there and it was not immediately clear what motivated the attack.
American and Afghan forces fought three battles with militants in southern Uruzgan province Thursday, leaving 13 militants and one Afghan soldier dead. A U.S. service member and four Afghan troops were wounded, a separate U.S. statement said.
On Friday, U.S. forces attacked a group of militants as they laid a roadside bomb in eastern Paktika province, capturing two and killing one as he tried to flee, another U.S. statement said.
In Kabul, security forces discovered a large weapons cache, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles and bombs, a NATO statement said.
In other violence, suspected Taliban rebels fired at a vehicle late Friday in southern Helmand province and killed a boy and two brothers, one of whom was a prominent pro-government figure, said Ghulam Muhiddin, a local official.
Also Friday, militants dragged two men from their prayers in a mosque before killing them and shot dead a tribal elder while he prayed, officials said.
Fighting since January has left nearly 1,500 people dead, the most in any year since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban.
U.S. military commanders predicted a spike in the violence in the weeks after last month's elections, but say they expect it to ease during winter as heavy snow falls make high mountain passes that the rebels use impassable, reported AP.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building