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Militants kill 9 troops at U.S. base

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | A multi-pronged militant assault on a small, remote U.S. base close to the Pakistan border killed nine American soldiers and wounded 15 Sunday in the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in three years, officials said.

The attack on the American troops began around 4:30 a.m. and lasted throughout the day. Militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars from homes and a mosque in the village of Wanat in the mountainous northeastern province of Kunar, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

"Although no final assessment has been made, it is believed insurgents suffered heavy casualties during several hours of fighting," NATO said in a statement.

U.S. officials say militant attacks in Afghanistan are becoming more complex, intense and better coordinated than a year ago.

Monthly death tolls of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan surpassed U.S. military deaths in Iraq in May and June. Last Monday, a suicide bomber attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 58 people in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.

U.S. officials are considering drawing down additional forces from Iraq in coming months, in part because of the need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have said they need at least three more brigades in Afghanistan - or more than 10,000 troops.

NATO confirmed nine of its soldiers had been killed and 15 wounded. A Western official said the nine dead were Americans, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the troops' nationalities. Four Afghan soldiers also were wounded, NATO said.

Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the top U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, said she could not comment because the fighting was ongoing.

The attack was the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American troops were killed - also in Kunar province - when their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Those troops were on their way to rescue a four-member team of Navy SEALs caught in a militant ambush. Three SEALs were killed, the fourth was rescued days later by a farmer.

The latest assault came at a time of rising violence in Afghanistan. Also on Sunday, a suicide bomber targeting a police patrol killed 24 people, including 19 civilians, while U.S. coalition and Afghan soldiers killed 40 militants elsewhere in the south.

More than 2,300 people - mostly militants - have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of official figures. Attacks in eastern Afghanistan are up 40 percent this year compared with last year.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned during a visit to Kabul last week that there are more foreign fighters, including al Qaeda members, in Pakistan's tribal areas, militants who cross the border and launch attacks against U.S. and Afghan troops.

Adm. Mullen has said he hopes improved security in Iraq will allow troops to be shifted this year from Iraq to Afghanistan, where violence is rising.

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