KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. and other NATO troops killed about 50 insurgents during attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday, calling in air strikes to repel an assault on an outpost in the volatile southeast.
In the largest assault, U.S. troops at a combat outpost in southeastern Paktika province came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire and mortars, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
“They are still investigating the area. Right now it is 38 insurgents killed,” said U.S. Army Master Sergeant Brian Sipp, a spokesman at ISAF’s eastern regional command. Another ISAF spokesman identified the troops involved as American.
There were at least two other attacks in the south and just north of the capital, Kabul, on Friday and Saturday, Afghan and ISAF officials said.
Rising violence and record casualties among foreign troops and civilians are likely to weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of his Afghanistan war strategy in December and at a NATO summit in Lisbon next month.
In Paktika, five U.S. troops were wounded when the outpost came under attack, ISAF said. Bodies were reported strewn across the battlefield after air strikes were called in.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Islamist group had attacked the outpost, claiming that six police outposts had been overrun in the assault.
Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Mujahid said Taliban fighters had inflicted “high casualties” on ISAF and Afghan forces but gave no further details. He said eight Taliban fighters had been killed.
The Taliban often make exaggerated or unconfirmed claims about enemy casualties in such attacks.
In the Taliban stronghold of Helmand in the south, ISAF said its forces killed more than 10 insurgents who had attacked a patrol. The patrol came under small-arms fire and responded with artillery and missiles, it said in a statement.
ISAF troops later found bomb-making equipment and about 10 kg of opium, the statement said.
Afghan and ISAF troops also came under attack by insurgents armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades while they were building a security checkpoint in Kapisa, north of Kabul, on Friday, ISAF said.
Air strikes were called in to help during a battle lasting several hours.
“Several insurgents were killed and many more wounded from the ground and air,” ISAF said in a separate statement.
The Taliban and other insurgents such as the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network have launched a series of brazen assaults on foreign bases and government buildings in the past year in a bid to topple President Hamid Karzai and force out foreign troops.
Afghanistan’s insurgency has spread from the Taliban’s heartland in the south and east to other parts of Afghanistan, including northern provinces and Herat in the west, which had long been considered safer.
Four suicide bombers attacked a United Nations base a week ago in Herat, which had been seen as one of the areas where it could be safe enough to begin transferring security responsibility from ISAF to Afghan forces.
Fighting in Afghanistan’s war is at its most intense since the conflict began in 2001 when U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban. More than 2,000 foreign troops have been killed since the war began, more than half of them in the past two years.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait and Peter Graff