By Jason Straziuso
Sunday, November 11, 2007
KABUL, Nov. 10 -- Insurgents ambushed and killed six U.S. troops walking in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on Friday -- the most lethal attack this year against American forces in the country.
Three Afghan soldiers were also killed in the rocket-propelled grenade attack, which occurred as the troops were returning from a meeting with village elders in Nurestan province. Eight U.S. troops were wounded.
"They were attacked from several enemy positions at the same time," Lt. Col. David Accetta, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. military, said Saturday. "It was a complex ambush."
The deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 101, according to an Associated Press count, surpassing the 93 troops killed in 2005. About 87 died last year.
Launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan quickly ousted al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors and appeared to have been a swift military victory.
But insurgent attacks, including ambushes as well as suicide and roadside bombs, have risen sharply the past two years.
Critics of the Bush administration say the Pentagon turned its attention from Afghanistan during the buildup to the invasion in Iraq, leaving the military with too few resources here to back up that initial victory with an adequate security presence.
Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at Rand Corp., said the power of the U.S. military has forced insurgent groups into relying on suicide and roadside bombings, known in military parlance as asymmetric attacks.
"It's an irony that the United States far and away has the most powerful military in the world," Jones said. "I think the current levels of attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan show, however, that the key vulnerability to the United States both in Afghanistan and Iraq is the asymmetric attacks."
U.S. forces have two combat brigades -- more than 8,000 troops -- in eastern Afghanistan this year, up from one last year. Overall, the United States has about 25,000 forces in Afghanistan -- 15,000 under NATO and 10,000 under the U.S.-led coalition.
Accetta said U.S. forces this year have pushed into new areas that traditionally had been insurgent havens.
"If you look back, last year we didn't have a significant presence in Nurestan, and now we do," he said. "That all contributes to the fact there have been more casualties this year than there have been in previous years."
Violence is at record levels across the country. Insurgents have launched more than 130 suicide attacks, a record number, and Afghanistan last week saw its deadliest attack since 2001, a suicide bombing in Baghlan province that killed about 75 people, including 59 students and six lawmakers.