Coalition troops clashed with insurgents in two battles Saturday in fighting that left four U.S. and two Afghan soldiers dead and six other Americans wounded, officials said.
The fighting was reported to be some of the heaviest in recent months and came as war-battered Afghanistan celebrated its independence day.
During a clash against Taliban militants in eastern Kunar province, three U.S. soldiers were killed and three others wounded, said U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins.
American troops in that area are hunting for Taliban fighters and extremists close to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network in remote mountains hugging the Pakistani border.
In southern Uruzgan province, an American and two Afghan soldiers were killed and three other Americans wounded in a four-hour clash with more than 100 insurgents, according to a NATO statement.
The troops used artillery and air support to repel the insurgent attack, a NATO statement said.
Collins said the troops in Uruzgan are part of a U.S. team training the fledgling Afghan National Army. Currently about 22,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan along with 20,000 NATO-led troops.
The slain American was identified by family members as senior airman Adam Servais, 23, of Onalaska, Wis. The four-year veteran was with Air Force Special Operations.
Officials said they didn’t have details on insurgent casualties.
The violence came as thousands gathered to mark Afghanistan’s independence from British rule in 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war. Repeated wars and conflicts have devastated the country of 25 million people in the last three decades, with scars still visible on buildings and large swaths of minefields.
In Kabul, Afghan soldiers with M-16 assault rifles paraded together with police, sportsmen and horsemen in a stadium that was used regularly for public executions during the Taliban’s rule.
President Hamid Karzai told thousands attending a celebration that education was key to protecting the country’s independence amid efforts by militants to undermine his authority.
“Our history proves our bravery,” Karzai said. “The only thing we need to keep our independence is education.”
Militants have targeted schools, burning 144 to the ground over the past year and forcing another 200 to close following threats against teachers and students, according to officials. More than 200,000 children have been unable to continue their education as a result.
The insurgents claim that educating girls is against Islam and oppose government-funded schools for boys because they teach secular subjects besides religion. Targeting schools is also considered a tactic to shake the authority of the U.S.-backed government.
Meanwhile, a mine in the country’s restive south killed a local police commander and an ambush by suspected insurgents left a spiritual leader wounded.
The officer was killed when his vehicle hit a freshly planted mine in Sori district of southern Zabul province on Friday, said Noor Mohammad Paktin, the provincial police chief.
Spiritual leader ambushed
Separately, suspected Taliban militants wounded Mrich Agha, a spiritual leader in the southern Kandahar province on Saturday, said Dawood Ahmadi, the governor’s spokesman. Agha’s driver was killed in the ambush, Ahmadi said.
Afghanistan’s southern provinces are bearing the brunt of the worst bout of violence to have rocked the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, as insurgents try to undermine the authority of Karzai and his government.