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Roadside bomb kills two U.S. personnel, wounds two more in Afghan south

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed two U.S. military personnel and wounded two others in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, the U.S. military said, an attack claimed by the Taliban.

The deaths brought to at least four the number of U.S. service personnel killed in hostile action in Afghanistan since Dec. 12, when the United States declared a “brief pause” in talks with the Taliban on a U.S. troop pullout, according to iCasualties, a website that tracks U.S. military casualties.

The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that the roadside bomb blast hit the convoy in southern Kandahar province.

The names of the casualties were being withheld until 24 hours after notification of their next of kin, said the statement, which gave no further details.

Despite a winter lull in fighting due to heavy snowfall in the mountains where the Islamist Taliban typically rest and regroup ahead of their annual spring offensive, roadside bombs continue to hit Afghan forces and their foreign allies.

A senior Afghan military official in Kandahar said the roadside bomb attack occurred in the Dand district.

Foreign troops cordoned off the area and kept Afghan forces away from the scene, the official added.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack. He said the blast killed all the soldiers in the vehicle. The Taliban usually claim casualties and inflate figures when targeting Afghan and foreign troops.

U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad announced the “brief pause” in the talks with the Taliban in Qatar after an insurgent attack on a U.S. military base killed two Afghan civilians and wounded more than 70.

The pause, he said, was to give the Taliban time to consider what U.S. officials say is a proposal by Washington that the insurgents agree to a reduction in violence as part of a U.S. troop withdrawal accord.

The Taliban have rejected a ceasefire demanded by U.S. President Donald Trump in September when he abruptly called off the negotiations. The talks resumed last month.

A U.S. withdrawal accord would be followed by talks between the insurgents and influential Afghans, including government officials, on a political settlement to decades of fighting.

Tens of thousands of civilians, security force members and some 2,400 U.S. military personnel have died in fighting since 2001, when a hardline Taliban regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion.

Reporting by Sayed Sarwar Amani in Afghanistan and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Daniel Wallis