5 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan

Posted July 22, 2012, at 8:03 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A person wearing an Afghan national security force uniform turned his weapon Sunday against civilian contractors with the U.S.-led military coalition, killing three.

In other incidents, five NATO service members were killed in roadside bombings over the past two days.

NATO said the attack on the civilian coalition workers occurred in western Afghanistan but disclosed few other details.

The gunman was killed during the incident, which is still being investigated. No further information about the civilians who died was released.

Afghan security forces or militants dressed in their uniforms have been killing a rising number of coalition forces, but they have not been specifically targeting contractors working for the coalition. So far this year, 26 foreign troops have been killed in this type of attacks.

In other violence, a spokesman for the governor of eastern Wardak province said insurgents had kidnapped five Afghan men working a base jointly operated by Afghan and NATO forces and killed them. Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said their bodies were discovered early Sunday.

Also Sunday, Afghan officials reported that four civilians died when hundreds of shells and rockets were fired from neighboring Pakistan.

The artillery shells hit homes along frontier areas from which insurgents have in the past staged cross-border attacks.

There is little or no Afghan or NATO military presence in the area and large swaths of the region are controlled by insurgent groups. The information could not be independently verified because the area is largely off-limits to reporters.

Emboldened Syrian rebels push into Aleppo

BEIRUT — A new rebel group boasting some 1,000 fighters launched an operation Sunday to capture Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, while government troops using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery rolled back opposition gains in the capital Damascus.

The spread of fighting into a second major metropolis displayed the rebels’ growing confidence even though they still can’t hold ground against the government’s heavy weapons, pushing Syria’s civil war toward a new phase of destructive urban combat.

On Sunday, however, a group calling itself the “Brigade of Unification” announced in an online video that it was launching an operation in Aleppo, Syria’s most populated city and a key commercial hub that has remained relatively quiet throughout the uprising.

“We gave the orders to march on Aleppo with the aim of liberating it,” says Col. Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Akidi, one of the group’s leaders.

The push into Aleppo follows weeks of high-level military defections, soaring death tolls, fierce fighting near President Bashar Assad’s seat of power and a bomb blast that killed four top players in his regime’s efforts to crush those seeking to end his rule. Rebels also captured several border crossings with neighboring Iraq and Turkey. The opposition’s momentum put the regime on the defensive for the first time in the 16-month conflict.

But while the gradual swelling of their ranks and increasing organization have allowed them to push into major cities, they remain largely unable to hold ground against Assad’s forces and helpless before his helicopters.

The week’s violence pushed the death toll for the uprising above 19,000, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said July is likely to be the conflict’s deadliest month so far, with more than 2,750 people killed in the first three weeks — nearly as many as in the previous month.

More than 100 people were killed Sunday, it said, including at least 24 government troops.

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