KABUL (Reuters) - Two NATO soldiers have been killed in separate blasts in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said on Friday.
The defence ministry in Amsterdam said one of the dead was a Dutch soldier -- the first combat casualty in the country -- who died after stepping on a land mine in Helmand province, the main opium producing area in the world’s largest producer.
In line with a new NATO policy, the alliance statement did not identify the nationality of the second victim -- such announcements are left to the home country of casualties.
Six Dutch soldiers died in Afghanistan last year, five in a helicopter crash and one in a fighter plane crash.
Violence has been increasing after the traditional winter lull. Last year saw the worst fighting since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 and many security analysts warn this year would be worse.
The brunt of the fighting is being born by U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers, mainly in the Taliban’s southern heartland bordering Pakistan.
On Thursday, the U.S. general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned suicide attacks and roadside bombings would rise as the Taliban became increasingly desperate.
NATO and Afghan forces have launched a major offensive in the south to pre-empt a threatened offensive by the insurgents, who have been bolstered by money from record opium crops and the ability to shelter and train in Pakistan.
More than 4,000 people died in fighting last year, including about 1,000 civilians. Already this year, hundreds of civilians have died.
On Thursday, a young girl was shot dead by NATO soldiers in Khost province when the car she was travelling in refused warnings to stop at a NATO checkpoint, the alliance said.
A second girl was wounded in the incident when the car passed a line of civilian vehicles waiting at the temporary checkpoint and ignored warning shots, a NATO statement said.