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Gates Rallies US Troops in Afghan South

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has met with a U.S. battle unit in southern Afghanistan that suffered heavy losses in the fight against the Taliban.

He told the troops they will soon be part of a "decisive phase" in the war, as U.S. forces prepare to take Kandahar, the largest city in the Taliban's southern stronghold.

The defense secretary spoke to the U.S. troops Tuesday at an outpost about 50 kilometers north of Kandahar city. He paid tribute to the sacrifices made by the combat brigade, which has lost 22 soldiers since being deployed last year.

Gates also met with U.S. and British generals overseeing a current operation against Taliban militants in southern Helmand province.

Later Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in eastern Khost province, killing two NATO troops.

A NATO statement said the attack occurred at a security compound used by Afghan border police and NATO forces.

On Monday in Kabul, Secretary Gates said he is encouraged by the progress of the Marjah offensive, but warned that "very hard fighting" remains ahead for NATO troops.

NATO and Afghan forces have been trying to clear insurgents from the city of Marjah in Helmand province since last month to allow Afghan authorities to take control of the area.

Meanwhile, Afghan authorities in Kabul have banned dark, tinted windows in vehicles.

The Interior Ministry says the ban, which starts Thursday, is aimed at improving security by making it easier to see what is inside vehicles. An Interior Ministry spokesman says there will be no exceptions for diplomatic or official vehicles.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.