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Afghan Captors Kill British Aide Worker During Rescue Attempt

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The British foreign secretary says a female British aid worker abducted in eastern Afghanistan was killed by her captors during a rescue attempt.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Saturday statement from London that the aid worker was killed Friday night during an operation to free her.

Linda Norgrove and three colleagues were kidnapped in eastern Kunar province on Sept. 26 after being ambushed. Police fought a gunbattle with the kidnappers near the attack site before the assailants fled.

Hague's statement expressed "deep sadness" that Norgrove "was killed at the hands of her captors" during the rescue attempt.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (AP) — President Hamid Karzai visited volatile southern Afghanistan on Saturday to meet with scores of tribal elders, as four Italian troops were killed in an insurgent ambush in the west.

Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry accompanied Karzai, who is expected to rally support among residents for international forces and the Afghan government.

More than 200 tribal leaders from around the troubled province of Kandahar assembled to see the president.

Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and Turyalai Wesa, governor of Kandahar, were among the group visiting restive Arghandab district. Karzai's half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai — a key provincial power-broker — was among the entourage.

The region where Karzai visited Saturday is one of the province's deadliest. He and the other officials visited Kandahar's famous Baba Sahib shrine.

Kandahar is the scene of NATO's Operation Dragon Strike, targeting the Taliban in their southern strongholds. The operation aims to rout insurgents from areas they have long controlled.

Violence continues unabated in many areas in Afghanistan. The focus of the war, which entered its 10th year last week, has been on the south, but coalition troops are fighting resilient militants in both the east and north.

Gen. Massimo Fogari, a spokesman for Italy's Defense Ministry, said four Italians were killed in an ambush Saturday in western Farah province and another was wounded seriously.

A roadside bomb exploded as a 70-vehicle convoy passed by insurgents, and then soldiers came under small-arms fire.

"Four soldiers were killed in the explosion and one was injured," Fogari told Sky Italia. "It's an ambush typical of the asymmetrical war that is being fought in Afghanistan."

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was saddened "by the tragic ambush."

"We are grateful to all Italian soldiers who, in various missions around the world, allow our country to keep its international commitments in support of peace and against any form of terrorism," Berlusconi said in a statement.

The deaths brought to 24 the number of NATO forces killed this month. At least 2,012 NATO service members have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

NATO says Afghan and international forces are focused on removing the mid- to senior-level Taliban leaders in Kandahar.

More than 21 Taliban leaders have been captured in the last month, arrests NATO hopes will strengthen governance and allow development projects to take hold in the province, the coalition says.

Karzai's southern visit comes a day after a powerful blast at a mosque packed with worshippers killed at least 20 people — including a provincial governor — in Taluqan, capital of northern Takhar province. Thirty-five others were wounded in the brazen attack.

The bomb targeted and killed Mohammad Omar, governor of neighboring Kunduz province, and came just days after he publicly warned of escalating threats from Taliban and foreign fighters across the north.

No group claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have targeted Omar previously.

Meanwhile, NATO and Afghan forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and two other fighters after raiding a compound in eastern Afghanistan, the military alliance said Saturday.

Mullah Hezbollah, who operated in Wardak province, died in a gunbattle during an operation Thursday night, NATO said. Another Taliban leader, Qari Sulayman, was also killed along with the two other insurgents in the raid.

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Associated Press writers Alessandra Rizzo in Rome and Deb Riechmann and Robert Kennedy in Kabul contributed to this report.

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