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Old 10-09-2009, 02:20 PM
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Default US forces leave isolated Afghan base after attack

AP


KABUL Taliban fighters claimed Friday their flag was flying victoriously over an eastern Afghan village U.S. forces abandoned after suffering casualties in one of the war's deadliest battles for American troops.

The withdrawal this week from mountainous Kamdesh, an isolated hamlet near the Pakistan border, was planned well before the intense Oct. 3 attack left a pair of outposts in ruins and eight American troops dead.

The NATO-led coalition said the move was part of a new strategy outlined months ago by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to shut down remote difficult-to-defend outposts and redirect forces toward larger population areas to protect more civilians.

The strategy has an inadvertent consequence, however: Every inch of ground the U.S. cedes, emboldened Taliban militants are likely to take and trumpet as a victory over another superpower.

The Afghan war entered its ninth year this week with President Barack Obama's administration pondering how to counter an insurgency growing more powerful by the day.

Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, is considering a request from McChrystal for up to 40,000 more troops to boost the 65,000 who are already in the country. Other NATO countries have a further 40,000 here.

Obama is also debating whether to shift the focus to more missile strikes and special operations raids against al-Qaida in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country where the terrorist movement's leadership is believed to be hiding.

U.S. Master Sgt. Thomas Clementson said coalition forces destroyed what was left of the two outposts in Kamdesh, at least one of which had suffered severe damage and was largely burned down during last weekend's fighting.

The action was likely taken to prevent insurgents from using the base.

Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the U.S. bombarded the outpost with airstrikes after leaving, as well as the local police headquarters.

"This means they are not coming back," Mujahid said. "This is another victory for Taliban. We have control of another district in eastern Afghanistan."

"Right now Kamdesh is under our control, and the white flag of the Taliban is raised above Kamdesh," Mujahid said.

A senior official of the Nuristan provincial government confirmed Taliban forces were in control of the village and Afghan police and soldiers had withdrawn from the district. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Provincial police chief, Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangulbagh, said the pullout "has had a direct affect on the morale of Afghan forces."

"If Afghan soldiers are losing support, how can they stay there?" he asked. "We need the coalition to send their forces back. We need more police, more soldiers."

The battle marked the largest loss of U.S. life in a single skirmish in more than a year. Besides the eight Americans slain, three Afghan soldiers and an estimated 100 insurgents died, according to NATO.

Insurgents fought their way into the base during the battle, a rare breach of security that underscored how thinly manned the post was.

Clementson said the attack had nothing to do with the timing of the withdrawal, saying the U.S. was "just days" away from pulling out when it began.

In a statement Friday, the NATO-led force said allied troops and equipment were moved "to other locations in eastern Afghanistan in preparation for future assignment to more populated areas."

Afghanistan is reeling from a wave of rising violence.

On Thursday, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 17 people in the second major attack in the capital in less than a month. The Afghan Foreign Ministry has hinted at Pakistani involvement a charge Pakistan denied.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao arrived in Kabul on Friday and toured the embassy compound to assess the damage and express solidarity with staff and condolences to the families of two Afghan policemen killed trying to stop the bomber.

She declined to lay blame, saying only: "This was an act of unmitigated terrorism and we need to investigate it fully."

The Press Trust of India said India will remain committed to development work in Afghanistan. Over the last decade, India has poured nearly $1.2 billion into the country, helping fund projects such as a new parliament building in Kabul as well as roads and power plants.

In western Afghanistan, authorities said they killed a Taliban commander responsible for a wave of ransom kidnappings of Afghan civilians in Herat, as well as beheadings, suicide attacks and roadside bombings, according to Gen. Jalander Shah Bahnam, the Afghan army commander responsible for western Afghanistan.

Bahnam identified the slain commander as Ghulam Yahya Akbari and said he served as the mayor of Herat from 2003-04 before joining Taliban forces.

Akbari was killed along with 19 other militants during a joint Afghan-coalition force operation, Bahnam said.

A NATO-led coalition statement said that as troops approached the area, they were attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Helicopters accompanying the troops returned fire, killing "a number" of insurgents.

Several other militants were also killed in similar operations in Wardak on Friday, the coalition said.

In the eastern province of Paktia, a suicide car bomber rammed a convoy of road construction workers in Wazi Zadran district on Friday, killing five and wounding four others, said provincial police chief Gen. Azizudin Wardak.

In Kunar, another eastern province bordering Pakistan, around 100 insurgents attacked a series of checkpoints and the police headquarters in Chapadura district, said the region's police chief Khalilullah Zaiyi. Seven of the attackers were killed in the ensuing gunbattle, and four police were wounded, Zaiyi said.

The NATO-led force also said one of its soldiers died in a bomb strike Thursday in southern Afghanistan. It gave no other details.
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