- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 16, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan | U.S.-led forces have killed more than 36 insurgents in a series of clashes and air strikes in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said Friday. A militant attack on a NATO patrol killed two of the alliance’s troops.

Groups of militants began launching attacks Wednesday on a coalition reconnaissance patrol in the south, using rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and small-arms fire, the coalition said.

Coalition troops “returned fire with small arms and close air support,” destroying several vehicles and killing more than three dozen insurgents, the statement said. Capt. Christian Patterson, a coalition spokesman said the operation is still ongoing. He would not disclose the exact location of the clashes.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of a six-year-old Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan that is gaining strength and spreading to the east. At least 93 U.S. troops have died in the country so far this year, a pace that would make 2008 the deadliest for American forces since the 2001 invasion.

In a separate incident, militants attacked a NATO patrol with a roadside bomb and small-arms fire in eastern Afghanistan Friday, killing two troops, the alliance said. NATO did not provide further details on the attack and did not release the nationalities of those killed. But most of the troops in the area are American.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan reported Friday an unusual operation involving dogs that were used to attack and help capture at least two suspected Taliban militants fleeing coalition forces.

The dogs bit two of the fleeing militants in the operation Thursday in eastern Paktika province, which targeted a wanted Taliban subcommander, a coalition statement said.

“Two militants attempted to flee and were pursued by coalition military working dogs,” the statement said. “Both militants received dog-bite injuries, one of which required treatment on scene by coalition medical personnel.”

Reports of using dogs to attack militants in Afghanistan are rare, though dogs employed by the coalition have been seen at checkpoints and are used to sniff for explosives. Last month a British dog handler and his dog we fatally shot while on patrol in southern Helmand province.

In Islamic tradition, dogs are shunned as unclean and dangerous. But dog-fighting is a popular sport in Afghanistan, a conservative Muslim country.

First Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman, would not say what kind of dogs were used in the raid, but said the troops will “use dogs when we need to.”

Eight suspected insurgents were detained in the operation, including the two bitten by the dogs. Lt. Perry said he did not know if the targeted Taliban subcommander was among those detained and the statement did not specify.

More than 3,200 people have died in violence across Afghanistan so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures provided by Afghan and Western officials.

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