Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eight U.S. Soldiers Dead in Bold Attack in Afghanistan

From The New York Times:

Published: October 4, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents besieged two American outposts in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, American and Afghan officials said, killing eight Americans and two Afghan policemen in a bold daylight strike that was the deadliest for American soldiers in more than a year.
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Week in Review: The Distance Between ‘We Must’ and ‘We Can’ (October 4, 2009)
Report Cites Firefight as Lesson on Afghan War (October 3, 2009)
Times Topics: Afghanistan

The attack took place in the Nuristan province, a remote area on the border with Pakistan. It began Saturday morning, when insurgents stormed the area, pounding the two American base camps with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Americans fought back, striking their attackers with helicopters, heavy guns and airstrikes, but the insurgents were persistent and the battled lasted into the afternoon, said Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It was unclear whether insurgents made it inside either of the two compounds, but Colonel Shanks said that by the end of the battle, American forces still controlled the outposts. The Americans shared the compounds with Afghan security forces.

“The militants put on a very aggressive attack,” Col. Shanks said. “Our forces had to use a considerable amount of firepower to counter it.”

The governor of Nuristan province, Jamaluddin Badar, reached by telephone on Sunday, said that 11 Afghan police officers, including the district police chief, had been kidnapped in the strike. He said the attackers did breach the compounds briefly. The American military did not confirm the report.

Much about the attack was still unclear on Sunday, but its broad outlines were eerily familiar. Nine American soldiers were killed in July 2008 in the same province, when 200 insurgents stormed their small outpost in the village of Wanat.

That attack, which has been described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan, with the 48 American soldiers and 24 Afghan soldiers outnumbered three to one in a four-hour firefight, is now seen as a cautionary tale for the war here, which commanders say should focus more on protecting civilians.

Locals in the area were furious with Americans for the killing of local medical staff in an airstrike the week before, and commanders believe that for that reason, they were more hospitable to insurgents.

Outrage was so intense that President Hamid Karzai called for an investigation into the airstrike, which local officials at the time said had killed 22 innocent Afghans.

Mr. Badar said Saturday’s attack took place in the Kamdysh district, about 10 miles from the border with Pakistan, and less than 20 miles southwest of the attack last year.

Attackers gathered in a mosque and a nearby village, before staging the attack. Mr. Badar said the attackers were Taliban fighters who had come from Pakistan, after military operations in that country pushed them out of their bases there. He said the strike was led by a Taliban commander named Dost Muhammed, whom he described as the shadow commander for the Taliban in Nuristan.

The Americans identified the attackers as “tribal militia,” a departure from their typical usage of the word Taliban. Col. Shanks said the description was more specific. Some military planners argue applying the word Taliban to all insurgents oversimplifies the fight Americans face here and gives the appearance, sometimes falsely, of a coordinated, hierarchical fighting force.

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