NATO kills 20 insurgents in eastern Afghanistan

Sunday, December 19, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- NATO said its troops killed more than 20 insurgents Saturday in fighting that broke out after a patrol came under fire in eastern Afghanistan.

In the southern city of Kandahar, a suicide bomber targeting a district chief killed two passers-by including a child, and wounded at least nine people, authorities said.

The gunbattle between NATO forces and insurgents took place in the Tagab district of Kapisa province, where coalition forces called in air support after their patrol came under fire, NATO said. It claimed Taliban commanders were among the more than 20 insurgents killed.

A day earlier, more than five insurgents were killed in a three-hour firefight in the same district following sniper fire on Afghan and international forces manning a checkpoint, NATO said. The coalition did not say what nationality the international troops were, but French forces are stationed in the area.

About 3,850 French troops are deployed in Afghanistan, mainly in Kapisa and the Surobi district north and east of Kabul. A French soldier was killed Friday after a reconnaissance mission came under fire in the neighboring district of Alasay in Kapisa, bringing the total number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 51.

Violence has been on the rise across much of Afghanistan, with the southern provinces of Kandahar -- the birthplace of the Taliban -- and Helmand seeing much of the fighting. NATO forces have poured troops into both provinces.

Separately, NATO said a coalition service member was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan Saturday, and a second died in a roadside bombing in the south. It did not release the nationalities of either, or the location of the attacks.

Another soldier died of a noncombat injury in the north of the country on Friday, NATO said. The German military said one of its soldiers, a 21-year-old, died of a gunshot wound that appeared to be the result of an accident at a military post in Baghlan Province, but the matter was being investigated.

More than 670 international troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her defense minister and the military's chief of staff made a surprise visit to their nation's troops in northern Afghanistan. Germany currently has nearly 4,700 troops serving in Afghanistan and plans to start gradually withdrawing in late 2011.

The German delegation visited Kunduz, where Germany has a base.

She later continued to another German base at Mazar-i-Sharif, also in the north, where she met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Before meeting Karzai, she said she planned to discuss administration and corruption with the Afghan leader.

"The progress here is not as we would envision," she said.

Merkel thanked troops in Kunduz for their "extremely dangerous" deployment.

"You are embroiled in battles of the kind one has in war," Merkel said. "That is an entirely new experience for us."

Later, in Mazar-i-Sharif, she said: "We haven't known something like this since the second World War."

To the south, a suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday near an armored car carrying a district chief in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killing two civilians -- including a child -- and wounding at least another nine, Afghan authorities said. NATO said the bombing had wounded 11 children.

The bomber targeted Ahmadullah Nazak's car as the official was traveling to a meeting, said Zalmai Ayubi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor. Nazak was unharmed.

Irfan Hameed, a doctor at the local hospital, said the bodies of a man and a boy killed in the blast were taken to the hospital, which was also treating five men and four children wounded in the attack.

In the north, gunmen attacked a South Korean-operated construction site, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said.

Sher Jan Durani, spokesman for the chief of police in the northern Balkh province, confirmed a road construction site had been attacked and said a Bangladeshi worker had been killed. He said seven Afghan security guards were missing, believed to have been taken by the attackers. There were reports that four of them had managed to escape, he said, but the area was very remote and authorities were investigating.

Separately, NATO said Saturday it had killed a senior Taliban leader in an airstrike in Badghis province in northern Afghanistan the previous day.

The military coalition said in a statement that the Taliban leader, Mullah Tor Jan, had been appointed by the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban command council based in Pakistan.

Badghis deputy chief of police, Abdul Jabar Khan, said Tor Jan was a senior Taliban commander responsible for planting mines along routes used by Afghan and international forces and for organizing attacks on police stations.

Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

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