Six U.S. troops were killed when insurgents ambushed their foot patrol in the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The attack, the most lethal against American forces this year, made this year the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
The troops were returning from a meeting with village elders late Friday afternoon in Nuristan province when militants attacked them with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, Lt. Col. David Accetta told The Associated Press.
"They were attacked from several enemy positions at the same time," said Accetta, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. military. "It was a complex ambush."
The six deaths brings the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 2007 to at least 101, according to a count by The Associated Press — the highest annual death toll for the American military here since it invaded to oust Taliban and al-Qaida fighters after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The war has evolved into an increasingly bloody counterinsurgency campaign.
‘Reminder of the sacrifices’
Three Afghan soldiers were also killed in Friday's ambush, while eight Americans and 11 Afghans were wounded. The battle produced the highest number of U.S. casualties — 14 — of any battles in Afghanistan this year, Accetta said.
"With Sunday being Veterans Day, this is a reminder of the sacrifices that our troops and our Afghan partners make for the peace and stability of the Afghan people," Accetta said, referring to the holiday that will be observed in the United States on Sunday.
Violence in Afghanistan this year has been the deadliest since the Taliban's ouster. More than 5,800 people, mostly militants, have died so far this year in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.
Airstrikes called in
Fighter aircraft and troops using artillery or mortars at nearby outposts fired on the militants' positions, Accetta said. It wasn't immediately clear how many militants were involved in the ambush, he said.
Mohammad Daoud Nadim, Nuristan deputy police chief, said the ambush happened in the remote province's Waygal district, about 40 miles from the border with Pakistan, which militants are known to use as a sanctuary. Nadim said he had no information on any casualties among the militants.
Arabs and other foreign fighters from Chechnya and Uzbekistan are known to operate in the Nuristan region, but the region's governor, Tamin Nuristani, blamed the attack on Taliban militants.
Nuristani said the combined troops searched two houses after the meeting with village elders and were ambushed while walking back to their base.
Nuristan province has seen heavy fighting in recent months. Two U.S. soldiers were killed and 13 wounded by a militant ambush in July, while militants disguised in Afghan army uniforms wounded 11 U.S. troops and killed two Afghan soldiers in August.
The attack on Friday was the deadliest incident for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since a Chinook crashed in February in Zabul province, killing eight Americans. Officials ruled out enemy fire as the cause of that crash.