- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and Afghan troops killed at least 40 suspected rebels in an offensive targeting militants who ambushed Navy SEAL commandos and shot down a special-forces helicopter — the deadliest attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The offensive, centered on eastern Kunar province’s Korengal Valley, sought rebels suspected of killing three Navy SEAL commandos in an ambush and 16 troops aboard a special-forces helicopter that was shot down June 28. The operation ended over the weekend.

“It was successful,” spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said. “We had over 29 separate engagements with enemy forces that resulted in over 40 enemy killed in action and many others wounded.”

Before the operation started, hundreds of Afghan rebels — as well as militants from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya — were thought to be hiding in the valley, just miles from the Pakistan border, and gearing up for attacks on voting stations.

Col. O’Hara also announced that a separate battle Aug. 7 to 10 in southern Zabul province’s Daychopan district left 65 suspected militants dead. The military initially reported that 16 rebels were killed.

The weeklong operation in lawless Kunar province near Pakistan came after the spate of insurgent attacks that already has made 2005 the bloodiest year for American forces in the country since the Taliban’s ouster.

This year alone, 66 American service members have been killed — more than a third of the 187 who have died in and around Afghanistan since 2001. Four were slain Sunday when a massive roadside bomb blew up an under-armored Humvee.

Most of the recent fatalities have occurred during coalition operations aimed at preventing militants from subverting crucial legislative elections Sept. 18, seen as Afghanistan’s next step toward democracy after more than two decades of war and civil strife.

Taliban-led rebels have vowed to disrupt the vote, and U.S. and Afghan officials have warned that the violence is likely to worsen in the approaching weeks.

More than 750 suspected insurgents have been killed in clashes during the past six months, according to figures provided by U.S. and Afghan officials and compiled by the Associated Press. Nearly 200 civilians and about 100 members of Afghan security forces also have died.

Part of the U.S. military’s preparations for the elections has been to deploy an extra 700 troops to Afghanistan, boosting the number of forces here to about 20,000. About 3,100 soldiers from 19 other nations are part of the U.S.-led coalition.

A separate NATO-led peacekeeping force also has brought in reinforcements ahead of the vote and now numbers about 10,500.

Last Tuesday, a helicopter carrying NATO peacekeepers crashed in a western Afghan desert, and another helicopter flying with it made an emergency landing, killing 17 Spanish troops and wounding five. Investigators have found no evidence that the helicopters were downed by hostile fire.

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