KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A roadside bomb killed two Italian soldiers and wounded four Friday as they were traveling to help Afghan police hurt in another attack near the capital, officials said.

Two Italian military vehicles were traveling together when one of them was hit about 10 miles south of Kabul, said Maj. Luke Knittig, a Kabul-based spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

Three Afghan police injured by a separate roadside bomb had called for ISAF’s assistance, said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Yousuf Stanezai. The Italian forces were only about three miles from the Afghans when they were hit, he said.

Taliban-inspired militants have stepped up attacks in recent months, particularly in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, the heartland of the hard-line regime before its ouster by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

Kabul and the surrounding areas are more secure, but there are periodic attacks in and around the city.

“The soldiers that were attacked in this case were exercising duties to assist with security,” Knittig said. “The very knowledge that there are security threats in the Kabul area is why they were out.”

The Italian Defense Ministry identified the two victims as Lt. Manuel Fiorito, 27, and warrant officer Luca Polsinelli, 28. Italy has suffered three previous fatalities in Afghanistan.

Outgoing Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi expressed “deep pain.”

“Spreading democracy at this cost is a heavy task,” he said. “We didn’t expect we’d have to pay again so soon,” he added in a reference to the death of three Italians in Iraq last week.

Romano Prodi, who is about to take power after winning last month’s election, said: “The price paid by our soldiers committed to peace and stability is among the biggest problems – perhaps the biggest – our country has.”

Italian forces until Thursday commanded NATO’s 10,000-strong security forces, which are now under British control after a routine leadership handover. Italy has more than 1,600 troops here, mostly based in Kabul.

The deaths were the first among ISAF forces since November, Knittig said. Overall, 59 ISAF soldiers have now been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, he said.

ISAF forces are under a separate command from U.S.-led coalition troops. On April 22, four Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in southern Kandahar province. The Canadians are currently part of the coalition, but later this summer will be shifted to NATO’s command as the alliance expands operations into the volatile south.

Also Friday, a roadside bomb blamed on Taliban militants killed two members of a well-known provincial political family and a bodyguard in southern Afghanistan.

Lala, a tribal elder who goes by one name and the uncle of a former provincial governor, died in the blast, as did his son and a bodyguard, said Ghuman Muhbdin, head administrator for Helmand province, about 370 miles southwest of Kabul.

Militants also ambushed a police patrol in Helmand on Friday, and two police were killed in the hour-long firefight, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Yousuf Stanezai. A number of militants were believed to have been injured or killed, but Stanezai could not say how many.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb south of Kabul apparently meant for the police chief of Ghazni province injured the chief’s driver and two bodyguards, said Ahmad Jan, a police assistant. The chief was not in the car.

It was possible this was the attack the Italian soldiers were responding to, but officials could not immediately say for certain.

The Afghan army, acting on a tip, raided a Taliban hide-out in southern Afghanistan late Thursday, triggering a gunbattle that left four rebels dead, a senior army official said Friday.

The army suffered no losses in the fighting in Zabul’s Shahre Safa district, about 90 miles northeast of Kandahar, said Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmatullah Raufi.

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