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Children among dead in Afghan suicide blast

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  • NEW: Suicide bomber jumps on to convoy from a roof in southern Afghanistan
  • Coalition spokesman confirms two soldiers were killed
  • Three children among the dead, according to local police chief
  • Dozens die as battle rages for control of Taliban-held Afghan villages
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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A suicide bomb exploded near a U.S.-led coalition military convoy in Afghanistan on Friday, killing 5 civilians, a coalition soldier and an Afghan soldier, military and police officials said.

Three children were those killed, Police Chief Mohammed Hussein Andiwal of the southern Helmand province said. Another five civilians were wounded.

The number of casualties was lower than initially reported.

A man with explosives strapped to his body jumped on to the convoy from a roof above the road in the town of Gereshk at about 9am, Andiwal said.

A Taliban spokesman claimed one of his group's fighters carried out the attack in front of the Afghan government's intelligence office.

A coalition spokesman confirmed the soldiers' deaths but did not give the nationality of the coalition soldier who was killed.

Another U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, said the convoy was part of the coalition's mission to train Afghan police officers.

On Thursday, Afghan and NATO forces pushed the Taliban out of several villages in southern Afghanistan they claimed to have seized, the governor of Kandahar province said.

More than 100 Taliban fighters were killed or wounded in the operation, said Gov. Assadullah Khalid, and many others have fled.

Hundreds of Taliban militants streamed into several villages in Kandahar days ago after 400 militants escaped from prison in a daring and well-executed jailbreak.

In response, NATO aircraft dropped hundreds of leaflets advising residents to stay inside and saying that troops were "coming to remove the enemies of Afghanistan." Then military convoys rolled into the district.

Afghan soldiers and police, along with NATO-led forces, started the military operation Wednesday. At least 34 militants were killed and another 60 wounded in the early stages of the assault, Afghan police said.

"This clearing operation is a response to a direct Taliban threat to the people of Arghandab district, where insurgents have forced hundreds of innocent Afghans to flee their homes," read a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Video Watch NATO troops launch their operation near Kandahar. »

Locals said the Taliban had seized from five to 13 villages, but an ISAF spokesman said reports of militants overrunning villages was Taliban "propaganda precisely to scare people."

The villages are about 12 miles (20 km) north of Kandahar, near the prison. Kandahar province is where the Taliban first rose to power and where it made its last stand before being toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said thousands of soldiers and police officers -- with reinforcements from the capital city of Kabul -- began moving into Arghandab Wednesday morning.

"This clearing operation is a response to a direct Taliban threat to the people of Arghandab district, where insurgents have forced hundreds of innocent Afghans to flee their homes," a statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. "The operation is expected to be completed within the next three days."

Even with the operation under way, NATO said it had seen no evidence of an increased Taliban presence in the region.

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"The scale of the challenge is currently unknown," ISAF spokesman Mark Laity said. "What we failed to find is the large grouping [of militants] that some people claimed."

Laity said the reports of militants overrunning villages was Taliban "propaganda precisely to scare people."

Journalist Farhad Peikar contributed to this story

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