Five US, Latvian troops killed in Afghan attack
Three US and two Latvian troops were killed when insurgents stormed a military outpost in northeastern Afghanistan Friday, officials said, in the deadliest incident for foreign forces here in months.
The militants attacked a small remote outpost of soldiers in the mountainous northeastern province of Kunar near the border with Pakistan, US military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias told AFP.
The Afghan ministry of defence spokesman, General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, announced earlier Friday that Afghan troops had come under attack in Kunar's rugged Ghaziabad district and three soldiers were killed and two wounded.
It could not immediately be confirmed if it was the same incident but that appeared likely. The Taliban had claimed responsibility.
The NATO and US-led forces, working together to fight a Taliban-led insurgency, did not immediately give the nationalities of their fatalities but said one was from the US Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A).
"The four ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers and one USFOR-A soldier were killed during an incident that included small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade strikes," they said in a joint statement.
Mathias said later that two of the ISAF troops were also US nationals.
The Latvian army announced in Riga that two of its soldiers were killed and two wounded.
Latvia has around 160 soldiers in Afghanistan and those in Kunar are involved in mentoring the growing Afghan forces.
The United States has roughly 38,000 troops here, the most of the roughly 40 nations serving in Afghanistan, and they have combat and training roles.
The joint statement said Afghan and international troops had returned fire and called in air support after coming under attack.
"The insurgents withdrew and ISAF-Afghan forces are in pursuit," it said, giving no other details.
About 30 soldiers were stationed in the outpost, Mathias said.
It was the deadliest toll for foreign soldiers in a single incident in Afghanistan since an August 18 attack on French troops left 10 of them dead and 21 wounded.
That was the highest number of troops killed in ground fighting since the US-led military invasion ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001, sending many militants into Pakistan from where they are said to plot the insurgency.
A month before the French were attacked, nine US soldiers were killed and 15 wounded when insurgents attacked a small military outpost of about 150 men, also in Kunar.
Azimi said 20 of the militants who attacked the Kunar base overnight Friday had been killed or wounded in the counterattack.
The Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, announced on Wednesday a new operation against international troops in response to a surge of 21,000 of extra US soldiers due in the coming weeks, most of them headed to the turbulent south.
The United States is leading the effort to defeat the insurgency, which was its deadliest last year, and has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to deal with militant sanctuaries on its side of the border.
The Taliban warned in a statement of increased ambushes, suicide attacks and bombings from April 30.
"Our targets will be the units of the invading forces, diplomatic stations, convoys, ranking officials of the puppet government, MPs, and employees of the defence, interior and intelligence ministries," it said.
In other violence, the US military announced earlier that its men working with Afghan soldiers had killed 15 alleged militants in air strikes and mortar fire in the southern province of Zabul on Friday.