U.S.-led coalition troops attacked a suspected training camp for foreign fighters in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, and an Afghan official said 34 militants were killed, including 22 Arabs and Pakistanis. Among the dead were six who blew up their suicide vests during the battle, the U.S. coalition said.
The raid on the heavily guarded compound in Paktika province — which lies on Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan — serves as a reminder that the rugged region remains a breeding ground for Islamist fighters waging insurgencies in both countries.
The administration of President Barack Obama has declared eliminating militant havens as a priority in defeating al-Qaida and winning the war in Afghanistan. Insurgents use such areas as a base for operations, from which U.S. military officials say they launch attacks on Western troops.
At least six insurgents wearing suicide vests blew themselves up during the battle, and one coalition member was wounded in the assault, the U.S. military said in a statement.
Afghan authorities said they recovered 34 bodies, including 22 Arabs and Pakistanis, said Hamidullah Zuhak, a spokesman for Paktika's governor. They found personal documents on the bodies of those killed, he said.
Hunting rebel commander
Coalition troops were hunting for a rebel commander named Sangeen, but it was unclear if he was among those killed in the raid on the compound in Wor Mamay district, the U.S. military said. The military alleges Sangeen plans and coordinates the movement of al-Qaida senior leaders and that of hundreds of foreign fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan, the coalition statement said.
Dozens of militants tried to repel the pre-dawn attack on the heavily fortified positions, some using high ground to fire on the forces and forcing them to call in airstrikes, the coalition said.
Forces also uncovered a weapons cache containing rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 assault rifles, suicide vests and other armaments, the military said.
In southern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a NATO soldier was killed in a roadside bomb blast, the military alliance said in a statement. It did not provide any other details about the location of the blast or the nationality of the soldier.
Separately, arsonists burned down a boys' school overnight in Daman district in neighboring Kandahar province. Two men attacked and tied up the school's two watchmen and locked them in a room, then set fire to the surrounding buildings, according to Yaar Mohammad, one of the guards. They both managed to escape after the assailants left, Mohammad said.
No one was injured in the fire, but all the classrooms were destroyed along with schoolbooks and Qurans, the Islamic holy book, said Abdur Razzaq, the school principal.
Another boys' school in Kandahar city was hit by a rocket the same night, but only a wall was damaged, said Najibullah Ahmadi, the provincial education director.
Militants regularly attack government-run schools and their students in Afghanistan as part of their campaign to weaken the government's grip. Many of the harshest attacks have been on girls' schools, seen by extremists as antithetical to their brand of Islam, but boys' schools have not been immune.
As a result, scores of schools have been closed across southern Afghanistan, which is the Taliban's heartland. Thousands of new U.S. troops are to deploy to the region later this year.