8 US troops dead in fierce Afghan battle

KABUL: US forces suffered one of their bloodiest days in eight years of war in Afghanistan with eight soldiers killed when their remote outposts were overrun by hundreds of Taliban militants, officials said today.

The dawn raid yesterday saw militants sweep down a hillside from a mosque and a village in eastern Nuristan province, to attack two posts in the mountainous border region which is a haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The US forces called in airstrikes to repel the attack,

in a fight that lasted into

the night, the International

Security Assistance Force

said, describing it as a “a

pretty tough fight”.

“Coalition forces effectively repelled the attack and inflicted heavy enemy casualties while eight ISAF and two ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) service members were killed,” it said.

Colonel Randy George, commander of Task Force Mountain Warrior in the area, said: “This was a complex attack in a difficult area. Both the US and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together.” A Taliban spokesman claimed that 30 foreign and Afghan troops were killed and that they captured the police chief of Kamdesh district as well as 30 Afghan National Army soldiers.

The head of intelligence in Nuristan, Mohammad Farooq, said: “About 700 Taliban participated in the attack, who came from Swat and Dir (in Pakistan). Al-Qaeda were also among them.” Nuristan’s governor, Jamaluddin Badar, said the Taliban took hostage 13 police officers and two Afghan journalists from a radio station established with US help. Five Taliban were killed, he added.

ISAF still plans to withdraw from the area as part of a redeployment of troops for the forthcoming Afghan winter and a strategic realignment of forces to more populous areas in the east, a media officer said.

The attack was the deadliest single incident for US and NATO forces since 10 French troops died in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan in August 2008. Nine US soldiers were killed in Nuristan in July 2008.

NATO is battling to quell a deadly insurgency that is spreading across Afghanistan, nearly eight years after the hardline Islamist Taliban were ousted from power. Eastern Afghanistan has seen an escalation in violence recently.

The London-based International Council on Security and Development think-tank estimates the Taliban now has a permanent presence in 80 percent of Afghanistan. Mariam Abou Zahab, from the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) in Paris, said: “The Taliban are in a strong position. They want to show that they’re everywhere.” Security has worsened in the previously calm north and west and insurgent attacks increased before the August 20 presidential poll.

NATO chief turns a blind eye

LONDON: NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted Sunday that the war in Afghanistan could succeed and said troops would stay “as long as it takes to finish our job”.

Rasmussen also stressed it was too early to say how many extra troops should be sent to Afghanistan, as US President Barack Obama considers a request from US commander General Stanley McChrystal for up to 40,000 more soldiers.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News television, Rasmussen went on to call for a “strategic partnership” between NATO and Russia.

On prospects for victory in Afghanistan, he said: “It is achievable and we will succeed provided that we choose the right approach.... We need a new approach, we need a population-centric approach.”He added that the Afghan forces could be built up to around 130,000 soldiers and 80,000 police.

“I think it’s important to stress that we will stay committed, we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job but obviously that is not forever,” he said. “It’s a mutual interest to reduce tensions in Europe and we should focus on pratical cooperation with Russia in areas where we share security interests.” - AFP