4 U.S. Troops Among Many Dead in Battles With Taliban

By Griff Witte, Washington Post, July 24, 2007; Page A10

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 23 -- Nearly 100 people, including four U.S. troops, died in clashes in Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, military spokesmen said, as security forces battled Taliban fighters in a war that has been gaining intensity on both sides of the border.

The vast majority of those reported killed Monday were suspected insurgents.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition reported that its troops, along with Afghan National Army soldiers, killed about 50 Taliban fighters in the southern province of Helmand. The battle began Sunday night when insurgents ambushed an Afghan army patrol with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, and continued into Monday. U.S.-led forces dropped four bombs on suspected Taliban positions, the coalition said.

Later, NATO forces reported that they had used air power to attack a meeting of Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan. NATO did not provide casualty figures.

The four U.S. troops were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, a NATO forces spokesman said. Another soldier was injured in the attack. Two other NATO troops were killed in separate incidents Monday. One was identified as Norwegian, while the other's nationality remained unconfirmed Monday night.

So far this year, 114 Western troops have died in Afghanistan, including 54 U.S. soldiers, according to a tally by the Associated Press. Violence has picked up in recent months, with NATO and U.S.-led forces launching operations in the south and east aimed at winning back territory that had become off-limits to the embattled government of President Hamid Karzai.

As support for the international mission in Afghanistan wavers, Taliban fighters have been kidnapping people from countries perceived as ambivalent about their commitment to the operation. The Islamic extremist movement ruled most of Afghanistan until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

On Monday, the Taliban extended until Tuesday a deadline for killing 23 South Koreans who were taken hostage last week. The group has demanded the release of Taliban prisoners in exchange for the South Koreans, as well as for a German whom the group claims to be holding. The Taliban also has demanded the withdrawal of troops -- Germany has 3,000 in the country, while South Korea has 200 noncombat medics and engineers. The Seoul government previously announced that its personnel would go home by the end of the year.

Negotiations for the hostages are underway, but Afghanistan's military has said it will attempt a rescue if the talks break down.

On Pakistan's side of the border Monday, government forces killed 35 extremist fighters in North Waziristan, security officials said. Two Pakistani troops died in the clash.

Violence has flared in the restive tribal area for the past week since Taliban fighters renounced a 10-month-old accord with the government. Pakistani officials continue to try to revive the deal, but the United States has indicated a desire for it to remain dead. U.S. officials last week identified the tribal areas, and North Waziristan in particular, as a haven for al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials have been urging the government of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to crack down in the area, and have said the United States reserves the right to act on its own if Pakistan does not follow through on promised operations.

That has elicited an angry response from Pakistani officials, who have asserted that any U.S. military action on Pakistani soil would be unacceptable and that the U.S. statements have only undercut Pakistan's ability to carry out an offensive.

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