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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
US troops die in Afghan blast
Munitions stockpiled at a garage belonging to ousted Taleban leader Mullah Omar near Kandahar
The Taleban stockpiled arms around Kandahar
At least four American soldiers have been killed while blowing up unexploded rockets near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

United States Defense Department officials said several others were injured or missing.

"It doesn't appear to be hostile fire - it is related to ordinance," said spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan.

The wounded are being treated at a hospital in a US airbase near Kandahar, which was a Taleban stronghold before it fell at the height of the US-led war in Afghanistan late last year.

A team of US soldiers reportedly numbering between five and 10 had been destroying old 107 mm missiles in the Mian Khoh area, about 4 km northeast of Kandahar, when the blast occurred.

A spokesman for Kandahar's provincial government, Khalid Pashtoon, told Reuters news agency that they had been using gunpowder to set off the ordnance.

Munitions recovered earlier this year near Kandahar
Coalition soldiers have been helping locals remove munitions
"After placing the gunpowder on the ammunition for blowing it, an explosion took place and four Americans got killed," he said, adding that a fifth American was "badly wounded".

Monday's blast comes after a series of unexplained explosions at an airfield used by forces of the US-led coalition at Khost, on the Pakistani border.

Coalition forces have stepped up operations against remaining fighters from the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in recent days.

But Afghanistan began an important new stage in its progress towards political stability on Monday when thousands of people assembled in the north to start selecting candidates for a grand national assembly, the Loya Jirga.

  Click here to read about preparations for the Loya Jirga

Landmine problem

The munitions which exploded on Monday appear to have been left over from Afghanistan's years of civil war and war against the USSR.

The country is littered with landmines and troops have been finding and blowing up weapons caches left in caves.

In March, exploding ordinance killed five peacekeepers, three Danes and two Germans, in Kabul.

About 7,000 US troops are deployed in Afghanistan, pursuing the war on terror launched after the 11 September suicide attacks on America.

Before Monday's incident, 32 US troops had died in and around Afghanistan.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"It seems that they were trying to make safe several rockets"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | South Asia
Clashes overshadow Afghan assembly
07 Mar 02 | Europe
Kabul blast to be investigated
14 Feb 02 | South Asia
Tough task on the Kandahar beat
13 Feb 02 | South Asia
US base in Kandahar attacked
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