KABUL (AFP) – NATO has suffered its deadliest attack in Afghanistan in more than a year after eight US soldiers were killed in a firefight in the east of the country, the alliance said Sunday.
A US soldier fires his assault rifle during a gun battle with insurgent forces in Barge Matal, in Afghanistan's eastern Nuristan province in July. Eight American soldiers and two Afghan troops were killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Sunday. (AFP photo)
Tribal militia launched attacks on Saturday from a local mosque and a village in Nuristan province near the border with Pakistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
"Coalition forces effectively repelled the attack and inflicted heavy enemy casualties, while eight ISAF and two ANSF service members were killed," a statement said, referring to Afghan National Security Forces.
No exact details were given on the location of the firefight, which a Taliban spokesman claimed had killed 30 foreign and Afghan troops.
An ISAF spokesman told AFP later: "I can confirm that they (the foreign troops) were all American."
The attack was the deadliest single incident for foreign forces since 10 French troops were killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan in August 2008.
Six Italian soldiers were killed in a massive suicide bomb in the capital Kabul last month.
Coalition forces are currently battling to quell a growing insurgency that is spreading across Afghanistan, nearly eight years after the hardline Islamist Taliban were ousted from power.
Eastern Afghanistan has seen an escalation in insurgent-related violence recently as Taliban-linked militias spread their footprint beyond regions like Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south, where they have long held sway.
The intelligence head of Nuristan province, Mohammad Farooq, told AFP that Saturday's attack took place in the province's Kamdesh region, near the lawless border with Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathisers are based.
ISAF said the militants had fired on the coalition forces in outposts.
The Taliban were virtually wiped out in 2002 but are now on the march. Related article: Taliban revival raises fear
The London-based International Council on Security and Development think-tank estimates they now have a permanent presence in 80 percent of the country.
The commander of the more than 100,000 NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, has described the Afghan security situation as "serious" and reportedly requested up to 40,000 more troops. Related article: Nato seeks strategy
The extra forces would be sent mainly to the north and west of the country, where troop numbers are lowest, the US military told AFP on Saturday.
Mariam Abou Zahab, from the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) in Paris, said: "The Taliban are in a strong position. They want to show that they are everywhere."
North and west Afghanistan were calm until the start of this year, but have seen a sharp deterioration in security in recent months, as Taliban insurgents intensified attacks before the August 20 presidential election.
Like in the south and the east, fighting between militants and international forces has now become a daily occurrence.
This year has been the deadliest year for foreign troops since 2001, with 394 deaths, 236 of them American, according to an AFP toll based on a tally by the independent icasualties.org website.
More than 1,430 soldiers have died since the start of US-led operations in 2001.
Political uncertainty has exacerbated the tenuous security situation as no result has yet been declared in the August 20 presidential poll, which was marred by fraud allegations.
Afghanistan's Western-backed President Hamid Karzai, accused of vote-rigging, leads preliminary results with 55 percent of the vote, while his main rival Abdullah Abdullah has around 28 percent.
Auditing of suspect ballots from more than 3,000 ballot boxes is due to start Monday, electoral officials have said.