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US Soldier Killed in Afghanistan as International Aid Group Arrives - 2003-10-31

Afghan insurgents have killed a U.S. soldier as world political and military leaders arrive in the country for meetings on post-war assistance. The U.S. military says one of its Special Forces soldiers died from wounds received in combat Thursday in central Afghanistan. The fighting also resulted in the wounding of an Afghan soldier serving with the coalition.

The battle is the latest in Afghanistan's ongoing insurgency, where Afghan and U.S. troops are pitted against fighters from the country's former Taleban regime and other rebel elements.

The recent upsurge in violence is prompting international concern. On Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark began a two-day visit, including a trip to the central Afghan city of Bamiyan, where New Zealand troops are providing security for reconstruction projects.

Afghanistan is also expecting an unprecedented delegation from the United Nations Security Council, which will spend a week traveling around Afghanistan looking at the security situation. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad says he hopes the visit will result in a renewed international commitment to help the struggling nation.

"The U.N. presence has to be a long-term one in Afghanistan until we reach the point where we can start scaling back a few years down the road," said Mr. Samad.

Also in Afghanistan is top NATO alliance commander U.S. General James Jones. He arrives as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, expands from its original deployment in the capital Kabul to the violence-plagued provinces.

Security is a top priority in Afghanistan. In addition to the insurgency, the country is also contenting with violent feuding by independent rural militias and widespread banditry.

ISAF has so far expanded to the relatively peaceful northern province of Kunduz, and Mr. Samad says further deployments may take some time.

"Various possibilities and means… exist to adequately expand ISAF security in areas that are needed in Afghanistan over the coming months - months with an 's,'" he said.

In the meantime, the United States retains a sizable force in the country, and other nations have sent small contingents of their own. The Afghan government is hoping the planned ISAF expansion will play a preeminent role in helping restore peace to Afghanistan after two decades of war.