OFFICIAL: INSURGENTS KILL 9 U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN
By Jason Straziuso
July 13, 2008
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A multi-pronged militant assault on a small, remote U.S. base killed nine American soldiers and wounded 15 Sunday in the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in three years, officials said.
The attack on the U.S. outpost came the same day a suicide bomber targeting a police patrol killed 24 people, while U.S. coalition and Afghan soldiers killed 40 militants elsewhere in the south.
The militant assault on the American troops began around 4:30 a.m. in a dangerous region close to the Pakistan border and lasted throughout the day.
Militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars from homes and a mosque in the village of Wanat in the mountainous northeastern province of Kunar, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
Nine U.S. troops were killed in the attack, a Western official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the troops' nationalities.
NATO confirmed nine of its soldiers had been killed and 15 wounded. Four Afghan soldiers also were wounded, NATO said.
"Although no final assessment has been made, it is believed insurgents suffered heavy casualties during several hours of fighting," NATO said in a statement.
Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the top U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, said she could not comment because the fight was ongoing.
The attack appeared to be the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American troops were killed -- also in Kunar province -- when their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Those troops were on their way to rescue a four-man team of Navy SEALs caught in a militant ambush. Three SEALs were killed, the fourth was rescued days later by a farmer.
Sunday's attack came during a period of rising violence in Afghanistan. Monthly death tolls of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan surpassed U.S. military deaths in Iraq in May and June. Last Monday, a suicide bomber attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 58 people in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.
In two other incidents this month, an Afghan government commission found that U.S. aircraft killed 47 civilians during a bombing run in Nangarhar province, while a separate incident in Nuristan province is alleged by an Afghan officials to have killed 22 civilians.
The high casualty tolls have prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross this week to ask all sides to show restraint and avoid civilian casualties. But violence continued around the country on Sunday.
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up next to a police patrol Sunday in the southern province of Uruzgan, killing 24 people.
The bomb attack on a police patrol at a busy intersection of the Deh Rawood district killed five police officers and 19 civilians, wounding more than 30 others, said Juma Gul Himat, Uruzgan's police chief. Most of those killed and wounded were shopkeepers and young boys selling goods in the street, he said.
Elsewhere, Taliban militants executed two women in central Afghanistan late Saturday after accusing them of working as prostitutes on a U.S. base.
The women, dressed in blue burqas, were shot and killed just outside Ghazni city in central Afghanistan, said Sayed Ismal, a spokesman for Ghazni's governor. He called the two "innocent local people."
Taliban fighters told Associated Press Television News the two women were executed for allegedly running a prostitution ring catering to U.S. soldiers and other foreign contractors at a U.S. base in Ghazni city.
1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a U.S. military spokesman, said he had not heard allegations "anything close to that nature."
Meanwhile, at least 40 militants were killed following an attack on Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces in Helmand province, the coalition said in a statement.
The militants attacked the combined forces near Sangin on Saturday from "multiple concealed and fortified positions," the coalition said. Thirty "enemy boats" and several small bridges have been destroyed on the Helmand River during two days of fighting, it said.
A soldier with NATO's International Security Assistance Force died in a roadside blast in Helmand province Sunday, a statement said. The soldier's nationality was not released and it wasn't clear if the death was connected to the two-day battle.
More than 2,300 people -- mostly militants -- have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of official figures.
In the country's north, a soldier serving with ISAF died of wounds caused by an explosion Saturday, the military alliance said in a statement. The statement did not give any further details of the explosion. The soldier's nationality was not been disclosed.
There are nearly 53,000 troops from 40 nations serving the ISAF in Afghanistan.
U.S. foreign policy
AFGHANISTAN: NINE U.S. TROOPS KILLED AS TALIBAN ATTACK REMOTE BASE CLOSE TO PAKISTAN BORDER
By Saeed Shah (Islamabad) and Suzanne Goldenberg (Washington)
** Day-long battle follows militant attack on outpost -- Biggest loss of American lives in three years **
July 14, 2008
The NATO-led effort to subdue the Taliban suffered one of its heaviest blows since the 2001 invasion yesterday when nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 other NATO troops injured in a day-long battle in a region close to the Pakistan border.
The U.S. troops died as their base came under attack in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. The news puts further pressure on Pakistan, where coalition forces believe many Taliban militants are based. It was among the biggest losses for the coalition since the start of the war.
The fighting was set off after a multi-pronged militant assault on a small, remote U.S. base. Militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars from homes and a mosque in the village of Wanat, in Kunar, a mountainous region that borders Pakistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
The attack began at 4.30 a.m. and lasted throughout the day, claiming the lives of nine Americans and dozens of Taliban.
It was the deadliest incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 troops were killed when their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
A spokesman for Isaf in Kabul said last night: "We defended this base. There are still some operations on-going. The insurgents were repulsed and there is no fighting now but they might pop up again." There were "heavy casualties" among the Taliban, according to the coalition.
With 28 soldiers killed, June was the deadliest month for coalition forces since 2001. July is looking to be costly in military and civilian terms. Earlier this month, the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 41. The Afghan authorities accused Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of orchestrating the bombing.
Earlier yesterday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 24 people, many of them children, in the southern province of Uruzgan. A gun battle in Helmand province, also in the south, killed more than 40 militants, the coalition said. Another attack in Helmand left an ISAF soldier dead -- the nationality was not disclosed.
Elsewhere, Taliban militants killed two women in central Afghanistan after accusing them of working as prostitutes on a U.S. base. The women, dressed in burkas, were shot and killed on Saturday just outside Ghazni city in central Afghanistan.
Taliban suicide bombs have killed more than 230 civilians and wounded nearly 500 this year. There are signs that Washington is losing patience with Pakistan for not stopping the use of its tribal area as a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaida.
Worse, parts of Pakistan's security apparatus are suspected of secretly supporting the Taliban. There are fears in Pakistan that the U.S. could attack militants based on Pakistan's side of the border, concern that will be heightened by the scale of the US casualties yesterday.
On Saturday, the head of the U.S. military, Admiral Mike Mullen, made a surprise visit to Islamabad with a blunt message: cooperate in the "war on terror" or face unilateral U.S. intervention.
Britain has already signalled that Afghanistan has become a higher priority than Iraq, as it draws down troops from Basra and steps up its involvement in Helmand. There were signs at the weekend that Washington may be considering a similar switch, as it emerged that George Bush is deliberating faster troop withdrawals from Iraq during his final months in the White House. The *New York Times* reported yesterday that as many as three of the 15 combat brigades in Iraq could be withdrawn by the time he leaves office.
U.S. CONSIDERS INCREASING PACE OF IRAQ PULLOUT
By Steven Lee Myers
New York Times
July 13, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq beginning in September, according to administration and military officials, raising the prospect of a far more ambitious plan than expected only months ago.
Such a withdrawal would be a striking reversal from the nadir of the war in 2006 and 2007.
One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional American troops in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other fighters have intensified their insurgency and inflicted a growing number of casualties on Afghans and American-led forces there.
More American and allied troops died in Afghanistan than in Iraq in May and June, a trend that has continued this month.
Although no decision has been made, by the time President Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, at least one and as many as 3 of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn or at least scheduled for withdrawal, the officials said.
The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for Afghanistan and potentially other missions.
The most optimistic course of events would still leave 120,000 to 130,000 American troops in Iraq, down from the peak of 170,000 late last year after Mr. Bush ordered what became known as the “surge” of additional forces. Any troop reductions announced in the heat of the presidential election could blur the sharp differences between the candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, over how long to stay in Iraq. But the political benefit might go more to Mr. McCain than Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain is an avid supporter of the current strategy in Iraq. Any reduction would indicate that that strategy has worked and could defuse antiwar sentiment among voters.
Even as the two candidates argue over the wisdom of the war and keeping American troops there, security in Iraq has improved vastly, as has the confidence of Iraq’s government and military and police, raising the prospect of additional reductions that were barely conceivable a year ago. While officials caution that the relative calm is fragile, violence and attacks on American-led forces have dropped to the lowest levels since early 2004.
“As the Iraqi security forces get stronger and get better, then we will be able to continue drawing down our troops in the future,” Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said in Fort Lewis, Wash., on Tuesday. “And I think that this transition of control and of responsibility, primary responsibility for security is a process that’s already well under way and based on everything that I’m hearing will be able to continue.”
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, has already begun the review of security and troop levels. He and Mr. Bush promised in April that such a review would take place. General Petraeus is expected to be more cautious than some policy makers in the administration and at the Pentagon might like. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing military planning, said he was more likely to recommend a smaller reduction, but still a withdrawal.
One senior administration official cautioned that the president, who will have the final say, would be reluctant to endorse deep or rapid reductions if they jeopardized his goal of establishing a stable and democratic government in Baghdad.
Still, there is broad consensus in Washington and Baghdad that more American forces can now leave Iraq and that more are needed in Afghanistan.
“There hasn’t really been any discussion of numbers, and it’s definitely based on conditions on the ground,” a military officer in Baghdad said. And conditions, he went on, “are a lot more favorable than in December or April or even two months ago.”
General Petraeus, who will step down as commander in Iraq in September, will soon take over as the commander of the United States Central Command. In that position, he will oversee American forces and operations throughout the Middle East and Central and South Asia, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate confirmed him and his replacement as commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, to their new positions on Thursday.
The Pentagon has previously signaled that commanders wanted additional troops in Afghanistan -- as many as 10,000 more than the roughly 32,000 there now -- but with two wars seriously straining the Army and Marines in particular, officials have struggled to produce the extra forces.
A reduction of combat brigades in Iraq would free additional troops that could instead be sent to Afghanistan, though officials said that no additional forces would go until next year, when fighting is expected to intensify with the arrival of spring.
Mr. Gates has already extended the deployment of a force of 3,200 marines in southern Afghanistan by one month, essentially until winter arrives and closes many of the country’s mountain passes and remote villages.
The Pentagon also announced the redeployment of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its support ships from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea to provide what one official described as greater air power and surveillance for the mission in Afghanistan until next spring.
“We have clearly seen an increase in violence in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said at Fort Lewis, discussing the carrier’s redeployment. “At the same time, we’ve seen a reduction in violence and casualties in Iraq. And I think it’s just part of our commitment to ensure that we have the resources available to be successful in Afghanistan over the long haul.”
Last year Mr. Bush accepted General Petraeus’s recommendation to gradually withdraw the five extra combat brigades that he had ordered to Iraq. The last of those, Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division, is completing its withdrawal this month, bringing the number of combat brigades to 15 and the overall troop levels to about 140,000.
If the withdrawals continued at the same pace, roughly one every 45 days, three more brigades could leave Iraq by the end of Mr. Bush’s presidency.
In April, Mr. Bush approved the general’s plan to “pause” the withdrawals for 45 days, basically until mid-September, while reviewing the effect of having fewer American troops in the country. The Bush administration has been wrongly optimistic before about the future of the war in Iraq. But with major military operations in Basra, Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood, and Mosul, violence has continued to drop, and Iraqi forces have increased their share of the fighting.
The White House declined to discuss the withdrawals now under consideration, but a spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, cautioned that while the president hoped to bring more troops home, he would await General Petraeus’s recommendation in September.
“For now,” he said, “we will continue discussions with the Iraqis on our shared goals of a reduced U.S. troop presence.”
--Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.