9 Americans Die in Afghan Attack


Published: July 14, 2008

KABUL, AfghanistanTaliban insurgents carried out a bold assault on a remote base near the border with Pakistan on Sunday, NATO reported, and a senior American military official said nine American soldiers were killed.

The New York Times

Taliban insurgents assaulted a base in Kunar Province.

The attack, the worst against Americans in Afghanistan in three years, illustrated the growing threat of Taliban militants and their associates, who in recent months have made Afghanistan a far deadlier war zone for American-led forces than Iraq.

The assault on the American base in Kunar Province was one of the fiercest by insurgents since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan routed the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in late 2001.

The militants have since regained strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which they have often used as a base for raids into Afghanistan, an increasingly sore point for the American and Afghan governments.

The new American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan emphasized that issue on Sunday in an interview that took place before details of the Kunar attack were disclosed, asserting that the militants were not only entering Afghan territory but also firing at targets from the Pakistan side.

“It all goes back to the problem set that there are sanctuaries in the tribal areas that militant insurgent groups are able to operate from with impunity,” said the commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who took over the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in June.

General McKiernan said insurgents based in Pakistan had carried out some kind of attack on Afghanistan “almost every day I have been here.”

It was the first time a senior commander had stated so clearly that militant groups were not only infiltrating from across the border to attack but were also firing from positions inside Pakistan.

NATO officials reported that nine soldiers were killed in the Kunar attack but did not specify the nationalities, in accordance with the policy of letting member countries report them first. A senior military official in Washington said that all nine were American.

The Kunar attack also left at least 15 other NATO soldiers — almost certainly Americans — and 4 Afghan soldiers wounded, and it was one of at least three significant attacks on Sunday, including a devastating suicide bombing in a southern city’s bazaar that killed at least 25 people, 20 of them civilians.

This year of the Afghanistan war is already proving to be the deadliest since the American-led invasion. Bush administration officials are now considering a redeployment of troops to Afghanistan from Iraq to help deal with the rising threat.

Deaths of American troops and their allies for the last two months have been higher than those inflicted in Iraq. In addition, nearly 700 Afghan civilians were killed in the first five months of the year, a marked increase over previous years, United Nations officials have said.

General McKiernan, a four-star general who commanded allied land forces during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said there were three main reasons for the increase in violence: a change in tactics by the insurgents to small attacks on more vulnerable targets, such as the civilian population, district centers and convoys; the increasing progress of Afghan and NATO forces in pushing into regions previously controlled by the Taliban, which has led to more fighting; and the “deteriorating situation with tribal sanctuaries across the border” in Pakistan.

General McKiernan’s comments followed a weeklong visit to the region by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who discussed a wide array of security issues with Pakistan’s leaders on Saturday in a surprise visit to Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, after conferring with President Bush and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, directed Admiral Mullen to add the stop in Pakistan. Given that this was Admiral Mullen’s fourth trip to Pakistan this year and his second in two months, the admiral’s talks with Pakistani officials underscored the Bush administration’s increasing concern over the rising violence in Afghanistan and its links with the Pakistan tribal areas.

“The secretary wanted to take advantage of the fact that Admiral Mullen would be in the region to reinforce our concern with the Pakistanis about the spike in violence in Afghanistan and to keep the pressure on in the tribal areas,” Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a telephone interview about Admiral Mullen’s Pakistan stopover.

Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Admiral Mullen, said it was apparent to the admiral that “the Pakistani leadership is aware of their challenges in the border region, as well as of U.S. military concerns there, and are working to address those challenges.”


New York Times
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