Official: Dozens of Taliban killed after U.S. deaths
KABUL – About 50 Taliban militants died in a battle in western Afghanistan after an insurgent ambush killed three U.S. troops, an Afghan official said Sunday.
The fighting took place in a region controlled by militants that has been the site of huge battles in the past, some that have caused high numbers of civilian casualties. In Saturday's clash, a militant-fired rocket struck a home and killed a woman and a teenage girl, Afghan police said.
The battle followed an insurgent ambush that killed three Americans and seven Afghan troops, said Afghan army spokesman Maj. Abdul Basir Ghori. The ambush involved two roadside bombs, gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S. military said Sunday.
Fighting — which included NATO airstrikes — continued for six to eight hours after the ambush, U.S. military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said. She couldn't provide casualty figures and no other Afghan officials immediately confirmed the death toll.
"The combined ISAF and Afghan force was receiving significant small-arms, RPG and indirect fire throughout that time frame," she said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Saturday's violence came the same day Afghan officials said 50 other civilians, security forces and militants were killed in a spate of attacks around Afghanistan, including 20 noncombatants killed in two roadside bomb explosions.
Violence has risen steadily across Afghanistan in the last three years, and militants now control wide swaths of the countryside.
The U.S. and NATO have a record number of troops in the country, and the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is likely to soon request thousands more. A record number of U.S. and NATO troops have died in Afghanistan already this year.
Also Sunday, an ISAF official provided more information about the rescue of a New York Times reporter from Taliban captors in Kunduz province earlier this month. Afghan journalists were angered that the British-Irish reporter was rescued but his Afghan translator died during the operation and his body was left behind.
The official said the operation was launched because there were signs that the Taliban kidnappers planned to move the two men and hand them over to higher-level insurgents.
British troops came under heavy fire as soon as their helicopters landed, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the operation that had not been made public.
The rescuing troops brought body armor for Times reporter Stephen Farrell and for Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi, the official said. When the British forces found Farrell, they immediately asked him where Munadi was, but Farrell said he had been killed. Because the militant gunfire was so heavy, the troops had to leave Munadi's body behind, the official said.
The British troops killed about a dozen militants during the operation, the official said.
"People need to understand that it's not like we walked in and tried to save this one guy and leave the other behind," the official said. "It was really heavy fire, and the risk wouldn't have been justified to recover a person they knew was already dead."