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Taliban strike first fatal blow against heavily armored vehicle

The Taliban has issued a warning that it will increase attacks on foreign military forces in Afghanistan. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

A bomb attack on allied forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday marked the first time the Taliban has been able to effectively strike the heavily armored Mastiff personnel carrier, British officials said.

“It’s the first time personnel inside a Mastiff have been killed by an IED [improvised explosive device],” a Ministry of Defense official said.

Based on the Cougar mine-resistant vehicle made by U.S. defense giant General Dynamics, the Mastiff is designed specifically to protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades, the firm says on its website.

The company says the 21-ton Cougar vehicle has “withstood literally thousands of IED/landmine attacks” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A General Dynamics spokesman in the U.S. declined to comment, saying he would defer to Britain's defense ministry.

The ministry declined to give details of the incident, though it said in a statement that the three British soldiers who were killed were inside the vehicle and that they "received immediate medical attention" and were airlifted to a military hospital "but could not be saved."

Reuters file

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron walks past Mastiff armored vehicles at Camp Bastion, outside Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December 2012.

Nine Afghans also died in the blast, and six other British soldiers were wounded, according to Reuters. The military has not given specifics about where the Afghans and other soldiers were in relation to the 10-person vehicle.

The attack in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province came just two days after the Taliban announced the start of its annual spring offensive, which it said would be “monumental.”

Gen. Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army, told BBC's Radio 4 that the incident was a matter of “invention and counter-invention” as the Taliban tries to stay ahead of the armoring technologies of the military.

"The Taliban have found a way of countering the protective qualities and characteristics of the Mastiff,” he told Radio 4.

"It would seem that this was an extremely large bomb that was so powerful that actually it was able to cause fatalities within the vehicle itself. I've not seen a technical report, but my understanding in talking to the Ministry of Defense is that in all probability it was a very large device in terms of the amount of explosive and it may well have physically lifted up the vehicle and possibly even turned it over."

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

The Taliban took credit for the attack in a statement, adding: "It was a very heavy explosion and we have destroyed their tank."

NP Aerospace, the British company that outfits the Mastiff once it is shipped from the U.S., declined to comment on the vehicle’s capabilities.

“All our sympathy and condolences go to the families and friends of the soldiers tragically killed,” the company said through a spokesman.

The soldiers killed were all from the Royal Highlands Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News that the incident points to the danger even as British involvement in the war winds down.

“That process of withdrawal in itself is going to be extremely dangerous and will have to be extraordinarily well managed,” Salmond said. “The most dangerous thing in terms of our troops in Afghanistan has been the roadside devices affecting the armored vehicles. The soldiers obviously knew the risk they were running, but that doesn't make it any easier for the families or indeed for the rest of the regiment.”

NBC News' Peter Jeary and Akbar Shinwari contributed to this report.

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