At least 70 people, including nine US soldiers, were killed in a fresh wave of Taliban violence in Afghanistan yesterday.
The troops were killed when insurgents attacked a military outpost in the north-eastern province of Kunar, near the border with Pakistan, in the deadliest attack on American forces in the country for three years.
The multi-pronged assault began at about 4.30am yesterday and lasted throughout the day, with militants firing machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars from within homes and a mosque in the village of Wanat.
Nato and Afghan National Army forces responded with small arms and artillery fire, before fighter jets and Apache helicopters were deployed, leaving 40 insurgents dead.
The attack appears to be the deadliest on US troops in the country since June 2005, when 16 soldiers were killed – also in Kunar – when their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The fighting came on the same day as a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up next to a police patrol and killing 24 people, including 19 civilians. The attack took place at a busy junction in the Deh Rawood district in the southern province of Uruzgan. A police spokesman said: "Most of those killed and wounded were shopkeepers and young boys selling goods in the street"
Elsewhere, Taliban militants killed two women in central Afghanistan after accusing them of running a prostitution ring for soldiers and foreign contractors at a US base. The women, dressed in burqas, were shot on Saturday just outside Ghazni.
The deaths are the latest in a period of increasing violence. The monthly death tolls of Nato troops in Afghanistan surpassed those of coalition forces in Iraq during May and June – a grim milestone which analysts say confirms the growing strength of the Taliban. Last Monday, a suicide bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 58 people in the deadliest attack in the capital since 2001.
The violence has put further pressure on Pakistan, where coalition forces believe many Taliban fighters are based. There are signs that Washington is losing patience with Pakistan for not preventing the Taliban and al-Qa'ida from using remote tribal areas as a safe haven and rumours abound that elements of the Pakistani security forces secretly support the Taliban. Fears in Pakistan that the US could launch an attack on militants in the country will be heightened by the scale of US casualties just across the border.
Yesterday, the US presidential candidate Barack Obama paid tribute to the dead Americans, but added that his rival John McCain's numerous visits to the region did not make him better equipped to deal with the volatile situation in Afghanistan.
Preparing to embark on his second visit to Baghdad and his first to Kabul, Mr Obama said: "I will recall the visit [Mr McCain] made last year in which he was surrounded by helicopters and Swat teams and he came back and reported how safe everything was in Baghdad. I don't think that was indicative of what was actually happening on the ground at that time."Reuse content