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Mar 24, 5:36 AM EDT

Afghan gunmen kill 13 as suspected US drone strike kills 9



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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Gunmen in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 13 people during a midnight assault Tuesday on a highway as a suspected U.S. drone strike near Pakistan killed at least nine militants, authorities said.

The highway attack happened in Wardak province's Sayad Abad district, where Taliban fighters hold much territory and launch frequent attacks on security forces. However, no group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes after several recent attacks targeting buses in the country.

The gunmen opened fire on three separate vehicles in the attack, including a bus traveling from Kabul and heading to Ghazni province, said Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He gave the death toll and said the gunfire wounded at least two civilians.

Last month, gunmen in southern Afghanistan kidnapped 30 members of the Hazara ethnic community traveling on a highway in Zabul province. Security forces have been trying to secure their release ever since the attack, the latest to target Shiites in the predominantly Sunni country.

Meanwhile, two intelligence officials in Pakistan said the suspected U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province killed at least nine militants with the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Islam. That group recently announced it would join forces with the Pakistani Taliban to fight government forces in that country.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to discuss the strike.

It wasn't immediately possible to corroborate the officials' claims about the strike in the rural, mountainous region. Drone strikes have killed civilians in the region in the past.

Ahmad Zia Abdulazai, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Nangarhar, said he was only aware of an airstrike Monday afternoon that killed two suspected insurgents.

U.S. officials rarely discuss their drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan as many are run by the CIA. Afghan forces have taken the lead in securing their country after U.S. and NATO troops formally ended their combat missions in the country at the start of this year.

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Mahsud reported from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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