Dec 30, 2010

U.S. troops clash with Taliban in Afghan east

Rafiq Maqbool / The Associated Press From left, Army Spc. Christopher Wilson, Army Sgt. David White and Army Spc. Andrew Elterbrock of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2-327 Infantry, take positions Dec. 29 during a sudden attack by Taliban on Combat Outpost Badel in eastern Afghanistan, near Pakistan border.
KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. forces clashed with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, fending off a Taliban assault for the second time in as many days.
U.S. soldiers came under small arms fire early Wednesday morning as they set up a combat outpost in Kunar province, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. An Associated Press photographer at the base said the insurgents fired from a hillside and the U.S. troops returned fire with rifles and artillery.
The roughly 30-minute battle was the second time the same unit has come under fire in under 24 hours. Late Tuesday, they repelled a Taliban ambush and offensive using artillery and mortars in a fight that raged for nearly an hour. The outpost is said to come under attack by the Taliban as much as five times a week, at times twice daily.
NATO forces are heavily concentrated in the traditional Taliban-stronghold in the south, but the insurgents have increasingly re-expanded their reach, launching attacks in the north while allied militants such as the Haqqani network in Pakistan, have launched attacks in the east.
While NATO says the coalition is making sizable gains in quelling the insurgency, continued violence and chronic instability paint a vastly different picture of the situation in Afghanistan as the war against the Taliban approaches the start of its tenth year.
The instability has turned 2010 into the deadliest year of the conflict for international forces, with 700 NATO service members killed so far. But the Afghan army has also shouldered its share of the toll.
In the latest attack on Afghan forces, a soldier was killed in a suicide attack in the eastern Paktika province on Tuesday, according to a statement released Wednesday by the office of the province's governor. The statement said that the attack in the Barmal district left two other soldiers and five civilians wounded. Additional details were not provided.
Paktika, which borders with Pakistan, is among the areas where the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network is active. The group, seen as a major threat to stability efforts in Afghanistan, has been a principal target for NATO, as well as a source of consternation for the international force as Pakistan has resisted pressure to crack down on the group.
But the coalition said it was also making progress, overall.
NATO said in a statement released late Tuesday that it — in conjunction with Afghan forces — had killed more than 15 insurgents over the past 24 hours. The heaviest toll was in the eastern Kapisa province, an area where French forces are stationed. Coalition forces called in an air strike on an insurgent position as the militants were reinforcing their position in the district, NATO said, adding that at least 10 combatants were killed.
Separately, NATO and Afghan forces detained a Taliban leader in the southwestern province of Nimroz. NATO said Wednesday the man had knowledge of suicide bombers in the area and was involved in weapons procurement.
Associated Press photographer Rafiq Maqbool in Kunar province contributed to this report.
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