The U.S.-led coalition said Thursday it had killed more than 30 insurgents in a battle in eastern Afghanistan, fighters an Afghan governor said were responsible for an attack that killed 10 French troops this week. Officials announced the deaths of six NATO soldiers in two attacks.
Lutfullah Mashal, the governor of Laghman province, said coalition bombs targeted fighters on the border of Laghman and Kabul provinces. He said the insurgents were fleeing the valley where Monday’s attack on the French took place.
Mashal said Wednesday night’s airstrike was not directly in retaliation for the French ambush because the targeted militants also had been involved in “repeated attacks” in the area.
Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the top spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition, said the coalition was not “completely certain” that the militants were directly involved in the attack on the French.
“They were certainly at a minimum complicit,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they were or weren’t involved in an attack today, yesterday or on Sept. 11, 2001. We seek out terrorists and we will give them the option to be captured or killed or possibly flee.”
Coalition troops and Afghan commandos were conducting a search operation in Laghman when militants engaged the troops in a battle Wednesday, the coalition said in a statement. A coalition airstrike destroyed an “enemy fighting position” in the area, it said.
Civilians flee before attack
More than 30 militants were killed and one militant was wounded and taken for treatment after the clash, the coalition said. It said 200 civilians fled the area before the airstrike.
Afghan officials said about 20 civilians were wounded in the fighting. Mashal said it was not clear if the coalition bombs wounded the Afghans or if Taliban fighters had.
Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the provincial Health Ministry, said 21 civilians were wounded, including five children. Laghman deputy police chief Najibullah Hotak said one civilian died in the fighting and 20 were wounded.
Afghanistan is experiencing a surge in violence despite ongoing Western efforts to stabilize the country.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to the country Wednesday to reassure French troops and the world of its commitment to the cause a day after a massive Taliban assault an hour east of Kabul killed 10 of his country’s troops and wounded 21.
Both NATO and French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Thursday there were no signs that French forces were hit by friendly fire in the ensuing fighting, dismissing a report in Le Monde newspaper.
The paper, quoting survivors of the ambush, said it took hours for backup to arrive and that French troops were hit by friendly fire from NATO planes.
“We have no information allowing us to consider that French soldiers were killed under fire of NATO planes,” Morin said on RTL radio.
Violence engulfing areas of neighboring Pakistan is also dimming the prospect of the new civilian government there tackling Taliban sanctuaries in its territory.
Three Polish soldiers were killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded in the central province of Ghazni, Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Jacek Poplawski said Thursday. A fourth soldier was wounded.
In the southern Kandahar province, meanwhile, a roadside blast Wednesday killed three Canadian soldiers, Canadian officials said.
This year will likely be the deadliest for international troops since the 2001 invasion. Some 184 international soldiers, including about 96 Americans, have died in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count. That pace should far surpass the record 222 international troop deaths in 2007.
In all, more than 3,400 people — mostly militants — have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to figures from Western and Afghan officials.
Warnings from Western commanders in Afghanistan that militant attacks are growing larger and more sophisticated were borne out by Monday’s attack on the French, which was the deadliest ground attack by insurgents on foreign troops in the country since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
NATO and Afghan officials blame the surging violence in part on the ease with which militants can cross from safe havens in Pakistan’s ungoverned tribal areas.
Missile targets militants
On Wednesday evening, missiles destroyed a compound in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region that Pakistani intelligence officials said was frequented by foreign militants.
Between five and 10 people were believed killed, though their identities were not immediately known, the officials said.
It was also unclear who carried out the attack, though similar attacks in the past by U.S. drone aircraft have killed senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.
Militants are also engaged with Pakistani security forces in at least two regions on that side of the border. Hundreds have reportedly died and tens of thousands have been displaced in that fighting in recent weeks.
Western officials complain that Pakistan is not putting enough pressure on militants in the tribal areas. The Afghan government also has accused Pakistan’s spy agencies of secretly supporting the Taliban.
Pakistan denies the charges and insists army troops deployed in the border region as well as peace deals struck by the government with tribal leaders are helping control militancy.