KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A bomb killed two American soldiers and wounded three others in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Saturday, and an attack in an eastern province killed three children and two others on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The attacks in the wake of historic presidential elections earlier this month were a reminder of the insecurity still threatening Afghanistan’s democratic experiment three years after the fall of the Taliban.

Ballot counting from the vote gathered speed after a one-day break, and interim leader Hamid Karzai streaked ahead of his rivals in early returns.

Of 344,000 votes tallied by early Saturday evening, Karzai, the U.S.-backed favorite, had captured 71 percent. That preliminary result was based on 4 percent of the ballots cast.

The U.S. military on Saturday said a homemade bomb hit an American Humvee jeep on patrol in the southern province of Uruzgan on Thursday, killing two soldiers and wounding three others, one of them critically.

Karzai condemned the Friday assault in eastern Kunar province in which a truck was set on fire and then a remote-controlled bomb detonated, killing at least three children and a policeman. He described it as a terrorist atrocity committed by “enemies of Islam.”

The provincial governor said five people were killed, but he provided few details.

There was also an attack in Kabul, with four rockets landing in the capital Saturday evening. Three struck houses near the airport, injuring one woman, police and residents said.

While polling day, Oct. 9, was mostly peaceful despite threats by Taliban-led rebels to sabotage the vote, their insurgency still simmers, particularly in the country’s lawless south and east. About 1,000 people, many of them insurgents, have died in political violence so far this year.

Some 2,500 election staff resumed work Saturday morning at eight counting centers across Afghanistan after a day off to mark the start of Ramadan.

Final results are expected at the end of October, although it should be clear who has won within days – and whether the victor secures the majority needed to avoid a run-off.

Karzai is expected to maintain his lead.

In Washington, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the election was a triumph for Afghans and international forces protecting them, but only one step on the road to stability.

“It could take as long as 10 years for it to be a truly successful country in terms of security, in terms of economic development, in terms of being a successful democratic state,” Khalilzad told reporters Friday.

Khalilzad also suggested that training the new Afghan national army could be accelerated to reduce the need for U.S. and NATO troops. The current plan is to bring the Afghan army up to 70,000 troops from the current 15,000 in five years.

Afghans are aching for peace after conflicts dating back to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, and the U.N.-backed election, which cost about $200 million to stage, has generated huge interest.

A top election official has estimated that despite Taliban intimidation and bad weather, about 8 million of the 10.5 million registered voters cast ballots.

Counting began slowly on Thursday after five days of delays as a panel of foreign experts probed electoral fraud allegations submitted by the 16 candidates.

Of 343,727 valid votes tallied in half the 34 provinces, Karzai won 244,128 or 71 percent of the total, the official election Web site said.

Former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni had 15.4 percent; ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum had 4.3 percent.

At the Kabul counting center, set up in a half-built Afghan army barracks, observers for the candidates were watching the count closely.

Abdul Qudus Sayeq, a representative of Qanooni, alleged that ballot boxes had been stuffed in favor of Karzai and ballots cast for Qanooni had been deliberately spoiled – but was unable to explain where or when this happened.

“We’ve seen lots of papers marked with different pens” from the ones issued to polling stations, Sayeq said. “The new marks are all in favor of one candidate.”

U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the last of the ballot boxes – which have been transported from far-flung areas by plane, helicopter, truck and even donkey – were expected to reach counting centers by Sunday.

Karzai has led the predominantly Muslim country since the U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001. Many Afghans see him as a bridge to the country’s international backers and a leader untainted by the fighting. But they are impatient for him to deliver on pledges to rebuild their impoverished country.

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