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Steve Ruark, Associated Press
An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Thomas J. Butler Tuesday Oct. 2, 2012 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Butler, of Wilmington N.C., died in Afghanistan.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Three members of the North Carolina Army National Guard have been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

The remains of Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison of Maysville, Sgt. Donna R. Johnson of Raeford and Sgt. Thomas J. Butler IV of Wilmington were flown into Dover Air Force Base Tuesday evening.

According to the Pentagon, the three died Monday in Khost, Afghanistan, after an insurgent detonated a suicide vest while the guardsmen were on patrol.

The soldiers were assigned to the 514th Military Police Company, which is based in Winterville.

The three Americans were among 14 people killed when a Taliban suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle packed with explosives into a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol. The Associated Press reported Monday that the bomber struck shortly after the troops got out of their vehicles to walk through a market area in Khost, located in the eastern part of the country.

The others killed included an Afghan translator working with the American troops, four local police officers and six civilians. About 60 Afghan civilians were wounded.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility shortly after the attack.

The close contact patrols, with coalition forces working side by side with Afghan troops as advisers, mentors and trainer, are a key part of the U.S. strategy for putting the Afghans in the lead as it and other nations prepare to pull out their last combat troops by the end of 2014.

As part of that drawdown, the first 33,000 U.S. troops withdrew by the end of September, leaving 68,000 still in Afghanistan. NATO currently has 108,000 troops in Afghanistan including U.S. forces, down from nearly 150,000 at its peak last year.

Monday's attack followed more American casualties over the weekend that pushed the U.S. military's death toll for the 11-year-war above 2,000.


Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck