Ten more US soldiers killed in Afghanistan

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US soldiers fire a Howitzer in Logar province. President Obama is to decide whether to order a surge of troops in Afghanistan (Nikola Solic/Reuters)

Ten American troops were killed at the weekend in two surprise attacks that caused alarm in Nato’s US-led coalition.

In one, hundreds of insurgents attacked a pair of isolated outposts in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight US soldiers and several Afghan policemen in the deadliest battle in 15 months. Scores more Afghan policemen were reportedly captured by the Taleban.

In the other an Afghan policeman opened fire on the American soldiers with whom he was working in central Wardak province, killing two and injuring three.

It was unclear whether the policeman was working for the Taleban or simply ran amok but the attack fuelled the distrust that many Nato soldiers already feel for the Afghan security forces that they are supposed to be working with and training as part of the coalition’s eventual exit strategy.

The attacks also came at a crucial juncture in the eight-year-old war, with President Obama soon to decide whether to accept a request by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the 100,000-strong US and Nato force in Afghanistan, for 40,000 extra troops, or to scale back the counter-insurgency operation and focus narrowly on crushing al-Qaeda.

Domestic opposition to the first option is increasing as the death toll rises steadily. Around 400 coalition troops have now been killed in Afghanistan this year, well over half of them American.

The two outposts on a hill in the remote and mountainous province of Nuristan, a Taleban and al-Qaeda stronghold on the lawless Pakistan border, were attacked before dawn on Saturday by around 300 insurgents from a mosque and a nearby village.

They stormed the Afghan police post at the foot of the hill then swept on to the Nato post further up. The attack was repelled with the help of US airpower but the ferocious battle lasted many hours.

Aside from the American and Afghan dead, Mohammad Farooq, Nuristan’s deputy police chief, said that the fate of the rest of the 90-strong police force in Kamdesh district was unknown.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taleban spokesman, said that the insurgents included several suicide bombers and that they had captured 35 policemen whose fate would be decided by the movement’s provincial council.

Jamaludin Badar, the governor of Nuristan province, said that Taleban fighters had fled to Nuristan after Pakistani troops drove extremists from the Swat Valley earlier this year. He said that he had sought more security forces for Kamdesh district, adding: “When there are few security forces this is what happens.”

Nato said that its forces had inflicted heavy casualties on the insurgents but gave no numbers. “This was a complex attack in a difficult area,” said Colonel Randy George, commander of the US force in the region. “Both the US and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together. I am extremely proud of their professionalism.”

The death toll was the highest the Taleban had inflicted on US troops since a battle in July last year when 200 of its fighters attacked another remote outpost in nearby Kunar province and killed nine Americans.

The US has suffered some of its worst casualties in eastern Afghanistan, where its soldiers have sought to control the remote passes through which Taleban fighters infiltrate from Pakistan, but it had planned shortly to withdraw from the area as part of General McChrystal’s strategy to focus on protecting population centres.

Today senior Nato officers across Afghanistan were reassessing the security of hundreds of combat outposts. “Everyone is aware of what happened in Nuristan and checking their outposts are sufficiently well protected and manned,” said Major Jason Henneke, executive officer of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2-87 Battalion in Wardak province.

Major Henneke’s battalion itself lost two soldiers late on Friday when the Afghan policeman attacked his American colleagues near the end of a joint operation to clear the Taleban from villages in and around the Nerkh valley. The policeman threw a grenade, opened fire with his AK47, then fled and escaped. US and Afghan authorities are still seeking to determine whether he had simply lost his head, or was a Taleb who had infiltrated the Afghan police.

Either way, the attack unnerved US and other coalition soldiers who must work every day alongside Afghan soldiers and policemen.

“You don’t trust anybody, especially after an incident like this. You fear they may in some way be connected to the Taleban,” said Specialist Raquime Mercer, 20, who lost one of his closest friends in the attack.

“Young soldiers will think twice before doing joint patrols,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kimo Gallahue, commander of the 2-87.

October 4, 2009
Martin Fletcher in Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak Province

Source: Times Online

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