Wednesday, July 16, 2008

US Troops Flee Afghanistan Post After Attack

Troops Flee Afghanistan Post After Attack

Posted: 2008-07-16 15:56:54

KABUL, Afghanistan (July 16) - U.S. troops abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American soldiers this week and insurgents briefly overran the area, officials said Wednesday, underlining the difficulties faced by forces in the border region.

Militants seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of Afghan police left behind to defend government offices, Afghan officials said. Fifty more officers were deployed Wednesday and soon regained control, said Ghoolam Farouq, a senior provincial police official.

Sunday's attack by some 200 militants armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars was the deadliest for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in three years. Rebels fought their way into the newly established base, wounding another 15 Americans and suffering heavy casualties of their own, before the defenders and warplanes could drive them back.

The assault highlighted how Islamic militants appear to be gaining strength nearly eight years after the ouster of the Taliban, and the difficulties facing foreign and Afghan forces trying to defeat them.

NATO said the post, which lies amid precipitous mountains close to the Pakistan border, had been vacated, but insisted that international and Afghan troops will "retain a strong presence in that area with patrolling and other means."

"We are committed, now more than ever, to establishing a secure environment that will allow even greater opportunities for development and a stronger Afghan governmental influence," NATO spokesman Capt. Mike Finney said.

Omar Sami, spokesman for the Nuristan provincial governor, said American and Afghan soldiers quit the base on Tuesday afternoon. He said they took the district mayor with them.

Sami said U.S. troops armed local police with more than 20 guns before they left, but that the officers had fled the village and crossed into neighboring Kunar province when 100 militants moved into Wanat.

In other violence reported Wednesday, a suicide bombing and a series of clashes left at least 12 Taliban militants and one civilian dead.

The Kandahar governor said eight militants were killed in the southern province's Khakrez district in the past two days. A regional Taliban commander, Mullah Mahmoud, who controlled about 250 fighters, was among the dead, NATO said.

Police said the suicide bomber attacked one of their patrols in Lashkar Gah, the capital of neighboring Helmand province, killing a civilian and wounding six other people, including a policeman.

In eastern Paktika province, police said four militants planning attacks on supply trucks were killed in an airstrike early Wednesday.

Separately, NATO said it fired artillery and launched attack helicopters against insurgents in Pakistan on Tuesday, coordinating with Pakistan's military after militants fired from a building across the border. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

Pakistan's army spokesman said he was looking into the report. Another Pakistan military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name to the media, said its forces had sent "illuminating" rounds to help coalition forces direct their fire from where the attack was launched, near the Pakistani border town of Angor Ada in South Waziristan.

Associated Press writer Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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