Nine U.S. Soldiers Killed in Firefight
Insurgents Attack E. Afghanistan Base
Monday, July 14, 2008; Page A01
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, July 13 -- Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in heavy fighting Sunday at a military base in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, according to a Western official. The attack was the deadliest against U.S. forces in the country since 2005.
The clash began when insurgents in a nearby village attacked a joint Afghan and American military outpost in Konar province early Sunday morning, NATO said in a statement. The insurgents fired on the base with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades for several hours, injuring 19 Afghan and NATO troops.
NATO said in a statement that the fighters used "homes, shops and the mosque in the village of Wanat for cover" and said the insurgents "suffered heavy casualties" in return fire.
Attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased sharply in recent months as insurgents have streamed across the country's mountainous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan as part of an offensive declared this year by top Taliban leaders in Pakistan.
Border skirmishes with insurgents have been especially heavy in the eastern provinces, where at least 11 NATO soldiers have been killed and 25 wounded in insurgent-led attacks in the past two months. Last week, a NATO soldier was killed and four were injured when their convoy rolled over a roadside bomb in Konar.
Also Sunday, at least 24 people were killed and 30 injured in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber set off explosives near a police convoy, according to the Associated Press. Five police officers were among those killed, but most of the dead were shopkeepers and boys selling items at a busy intersection, the provincial police chief said.
That bombing was one of several suicide attacks in the country in recent months. Last week, at least 50 people were killed and more than 141 injured in Kabul, the capital, when a suicide bomber rammed his car into the gates of the Indian Embassy. The attack was the deadliest in Kabul since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in 2001.
According to the Web site iCasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, 553 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan and other areas. About 32,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan, along with about 30,000 NATO soldiers from other countries.
In June, 28 Americans were killed in fighting in Afghanistan, nearly equaling the 29 announced U.S. troop deaths last month in Iraq.
The increase in violence reflects a resurgence of Taliban activity in some of the country's most isolated areas. U.S. commanders say violence has jumped 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan this year.
Gen. David D. McKiernan, the newly appointed commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that insurgents have specifically increased roadside bomb attacks on NATO convoys, strategic roadways and police stations across the country. He attributed the rise in violence in part to an increased presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan. But he said insurgent activity along the border with Pakistan has significantly bedeviled efforts to quell the conflict in Afghanistan.
"Very troubling to all of us here is an increase in violence that is directly attributable to tribal areas across the border in the North-West Frontier Province and the Baluchistan areas in the south that allow the insurgents to maneuver," McKiernan said. "It causes a much greater security challenge inside Afghanistan. The problems of security issues in Afghanistan are linked to security issues in Pakistan."
On Saturday, Adm. Michael Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other officials, and expressed concern about the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan from Pakistan, his spokesman said.