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3 Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan

Three U.S.-led coalition soldiers died during a combat operation in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, while militants ambushed and killed a NATO soldier traveling in a convoy with Afghan forces in the volatile south.

Col. Tom Collins, a coalition spokesman said the coalition soldiers were killed and an unspecified number were wounded during an operation in Pech district of Kunar province. He didn't immediately have any further details about the incident.

He did not give the nationalities of the soldiers. Most of the coalition forces operating in Kunar are American, keeping up their hunt for Taliban fighters and extremists close to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network in remote mountains hugging the Pakistani border.

Saturday's attack follows an Aug. 11 ambush by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades who killed three U.S. soldiers on patrol in Nuristan province, which lies north of Kunar.

Also Saturday, insurgents attacked a joint NATO-Afghan army convoy, killing one NATO and one Afghan soldier in Char Cheno district of the southern Uruzgan province, said Maj. Quentin Innis, the spokesman for the NATO-led force.

He did not disclose the nationality of the NATO soldier.

The clashes happened as war-battered Afghanistan celebrated its independence from British rule Saturday, and amid the deadliest upsurge in violence here since the ouster of the Taliban regime in a U.S.-led offensive in late 2001.

Currently about 20,000 NATO-led troops are in Afghanistan, along with 22,000 U.S. forces.

In other violence, a local police commander was killed when his vehicle hit a freshly planted mine in Sori district of southern Zabul province on Friday, said Noor Mohammad Paktin, the provincial police chief.

Separately, suspected Taliban militants wounded Mrich Agha, a local spiritual leader, in an ambush on the main Kandahar-Herat highway in southern Kandahar province on Saturday, said Dawood Ahmadi, the governor's spokesman. His driver was killed.

During Saturday's independence celebrations in Kabul, Karzai told thousands in the city's richly decorated stadium that education was the key to protecting Afghanistan's independence amid efforts by militants to undermine his authority by also burning schools.

"Our history proves our bravery," he said in the stadium decorated with pictures of former and current leaders. "The only thing we need to keep our independence is education."

Militants have targeted schools, burning 144 to the ground over the past year and forcing another 200 to close following threats against teachers and students, according to Afghan officials. More than 200,000 Afghan children have consequently been unable to continue their education.

The Taliban claims educating girls is against Islam and oppose government-funded schools for boys because they teach secular subjects besides religion.

During Saturday's celebrations, Afghan soldiers with M-16 assault rifles paraded together with police, sportsmen and horsemen at the Kabul stadium that was used regularly for public executions during the Taliban's rule.

The holiday marks Afghanistan's liberation from Britain in 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war.