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US Troops Withdraw From Afghan Outpost

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - July 17, 2008
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US Troops Withdraw From Afghan Outpost
by: Candace Rondeaux
The Washington Post

Kabul - After suffering significant setbacks in the fight 
against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan 
troops have pulled out of a combat outpost where nine 
American soldiers were killed in a pitched battle with 
Taliban fighters Sunday. 

U.S. and Afghan soldiers withdrew from the makeshift out-
post near the remote village of Wanat as Taliban fighters 
swarmed the area near the border of the eastern provinces 
of Nuristan and Kunar, NATO and Afghan officials said 
Wednesday. An unspecified number of NATO and Afghan troops 
remain in the region near the edge of Pakistan's western 
border, said Capt. Mike Finney, a spokesman for NATO's 
mission in Afghanistan, the International Security 
Assistance Force, or ISAF. 

The combat outpost in Wanat had been operational for only 
two or three days before Taliban insurgents launched an 
assault on it Sunday, NATO officials said. Hundreds of 
Taliban fighters attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, 
mortars and gunfire. About 100 to 150 U.S. and Afghan 
soldiers struggled to repel the early morning attack, 
firing a fusillade of bullets on insurgents who had taken 
up positions in a village mosque and several other 
locations. 

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In addition to the nine U.S. troops killed, 15 American 
and at least four Afghan soldiers were wounded after 
insurgents breached the outer area of the outpost. The 
attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2005. 

NATO officials said dozens of insurgents also were killed 
in the hours-long skirmish and its immediate aftermath. 

Finney said ISAF troops were reinforced shortly after the 
devastating attack on the outpost and will remain in other 
parts of the region to fight the insurgency for the fore-
seeable future. 

"We aren't abandoning the area. Far from it," Finney said. 
"The Taliban have dispersed, and we're hunting them down 
to make sure they don't do something like this again." 

The Taliban assault, in the increasingly volatile region 
along Afghanistan's 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, 
occurred less than a week after U.S. officials reported 
that the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan in June nearly 
equaled the number of American troops killed in Iraq 
during the same period. Twenty-eight U.S. troops were 
killed in Afghanistan last month compared with 29 in 
Iraq, even though there are nearly five times as many 
American troops in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department 
of Defense. 

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Insurgent attacks across Afghanistan were up 40 percent 
last month compared with attacks reported in June 2007, 
NATO officials said. Some 314 clashes with Taliban fighters 
were reported in June -- a 50 percent increase from clashes 
reported in May, according to a report recently released 
by AFCEA International, a Virginia-based nonprofit military 
and government research and advisory organization. 

NATO officials have attributed the increase in attacks to 
greater numbers of coalition forces on the ground. But 
military and Afghanistan experts say the recent loss of 
ground in Afghanistan's eastern provinces in particular 
could signal a significant shift in strategy and an 
increase in the number of Taliban insurgents fighting 
inside the country. NATO, Afghan and U.S. officials say 
the flurry of clashes in the country's east and south has 
been fueled by a surge in the number of foreign fighters 
who have joined the Taliban, many of whom have crossed 
the border from Pakistan. 

The trend has set off alarms in Washington and Kabul, 
heightening tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 
particular. In recent weeks, Afghan and Pakistani officials 
have engaged in a testy public exchange, sparked in part 
by widespread suspicions that Pakistan's Inter-Service 
Intelligence agency, or ISI, is aiding the insurgency in 
Afghanistan. 

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After Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan's ISI 
of supporting Taliban attacks, his government on Tuesday 
cancelled scheduled meetings with Pakistani officials on 
border-control issues. The move came just two days after 
a council of Afghan government ministers endorsed a 
resolution accusing the Pakistani intelligence agency of 
fomenting the resurgence of Taliban activity inside 
Afghanistan. 

"The people of Afghanistan and the international community 
have come to the reality that Pakistan intelligence 
institutions and its army have become the largest center 
for breeding and exporting terrorism and extremism to the 
world and particularly to Afghanistan," the council of 
cabinet ministers said in a written statement issued 
Monday. 

Pakistani officials have dismissed the accusations as 
little more than political rhetoric on the part of Karzai's 
government. On Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah 
Mahmood Qureshi called the allegations "baseless," and 
said the Afghan cabinet had cancelled the scheduled 
meetings on "flimsy grounds." 

---------

Special correspondents Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Javed 
Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.  

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