Sunday, October 4, 2009

8 US troops die in Afghan outposts attack

Militant fighters streaming from an Afghan village and a mosque attacked a pair of remote outposts near the Pakistani border, killing eight U.S. soldiers and as many as seven Afghan forces in one of the fiercest battles of the eight-year war.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack for coalition forces since a similar raid in July 2008 killed nine American soldiers in the same mountainous region known as an al-Qaida haven. The U.S. has already said it plans to pull its soldiers from the isolated area to focus on Afghan population centers.

Fighting began around dawn Saturday and lasted several hours, punctuated by American airstrikes. Jamaludin Badar, governor of Nuristan province, said the two outposts were on a hill — one near the top and one at the foot of the slope — flanked by the village on one side and the mosque on the other.

Nearly 300 militant fighters flooded the lower, Afghan outpost then swept around it to reach the American station on higher ground from both directions, said Mohammad Qasim Jangulbagh, the provincial police chief. The U.S. military statement said the Americans and Afghans repelled the attack by tribal fighters and “inflicted heavy enemy casualties.”

Jangulbagh said that the gunbattle included U.S. airstrikes and that 15 Afghan police were captured by the Taliban, including the local police chief and his deputy. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said a council would decide the fates of the police, confirming the capture of the two top local officers.

Badar said five or six Afghan soldiers died, as did one policeman. Afghan forces were sent as reinforcements, but Jangulbagh said all communications to the district, Kamdesh, were severed and he had no way of knowing how they were faring Sunday. The area is just 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the Pakistani border and 150 miles (230 kilometers) from Kabul. “This was a complex attack in a difficult area,” U.S. Col. Randy George, the area commander, said in the American statement. “Both the U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together.” Jangulbagh said the bodies of five enemy fighters were found after the battle.

U.S. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a military spokeswoman, said American forces continued to man the outpost and there was scattered fighting early Sunday. She said was unclear if the attackers were Taliban or from another group linked to them.

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