- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | U.S. troops abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American soldiers this week and insurgents briefly overran the area, officials said Wednesday, underlining the difficulties faced by forces in the border region.

Militants seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of Afghan police left behind to defend government offices, Afghan officials said. Fifty more officers were deployed Wednesday and soon regained control, said Ghoolam Farouq, a senior provincial police official.

Sunday’s attack by about 200 militants armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars was the deadliest for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in three years. Rebels fought their way into the newly established base, wounding another 15 Americans and suffering heavy casualties of their own, before the defenders and warplanes could drive them back.

The assault highlighted how Islamic militants appear to be gaining strength nearly eight years after the ouster of the Taliban, and the difficulties facing foreign and Afghan forces trying to defeat them.

NATO said the post, which lies amid precipitous mountains close to the Pakistan border, had been vacated, but insisted that international and Afghan troops will “retain a strong presence in that area with patrolling and other means.”

“We are committed, now more than ever, to establishing a secure environment that will allow even greater opportunities for development and a stronger Afghan governmental influence,” NATO spokesman Capt. Mike Finney said.

Omar Sami, spokesman for the Nuristan provincial governor, said American and Afghan soldiers quit the base Tuesday afternoon. He said they took the district mayor with them.

Mr. Sami said U.S. troops armed local police with more than 20 guns before they left, but that the officers had fled the village and crossed into neighboring Kunar province when 100 militants moved into Wanat.

In other violence reported Wednesday, a suicide bombing and a series of clashes left at least 12 Taliban militants and one civilian dead.

The Kandahar governor said eight militants were killed in the southern province’s Khakrez district in the past two days. A regional Taliban commander, Mullah Mahmoud, who controlled about 250 fighters, was among the dead, NATO said.

Police said the suicide bomber attacked one of their patrols in Lashkar Gah, the capital of neighboring Helmand province, killing a civilian and wounding six other people, including a policeman.

In eastern Paktika province, police said four militants planning attacks on supply trucks were killed in an air strike early Wednesday.

cAssociated Press writer Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

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