Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 1 News List

NATO raises death toll from clash with militants

AP , KABUL

NATO and Afghan troops killed 70 suspected militants who attacked a military base in the south of Afghanistan, while a roadside blast killed one NATO soldier and wounded eight others, the alliance said yesterday.

Some 100 to 150 militants attacked a military base north of Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan on Saturday, said Major Luke Knittig, a spokesman for the NATO-led force.

The alliance and Afghan troops fought back for several hours with small arms fire, attack helicopters and airstrikes.

Seventy insurgents were killed, Knittig said, upgrading an earlier estimate of 55 dead. One Afghan soldier was wounded.

It was impossible to independently verify the death toll at the remote battle site.

The clash happened as NATO and Afghan troops press ahead with their new joint offensive, called Operation Eagle, aimed at keeping pressure on the Taliban through the fall and winter, and to pave the way for long-promised development after the harshest fighting in five years.

A roadside blast killed one NATO soldier yesterday and wounded eight in Uruzgan, the alliance said. Three civilians were wounded. The nationalities of the slain and wounded soldiers were not disclosed.

NATO's top commander apologized on Saturday for civilian deaths caused by fighting between Taliban militants and NATO forces earlier in the week, but said insurgents endanger civilians by hiding among them.

"Sadly, in asymmetric warfare, when you're battling an insurgency, typically the insurgents do not play by the same rules that we would like to play by," US General James Jones said.

The NATO commander expressed regret for civilian deaths but said Taliban fighters use civilians as human shields and said that in the heat of battle it can be difficult to separate the two.

The death of a civilian "is something that causes anybody in uniform to lose a lot of sleep," Jones said at a news conference at Bagram air base.

The 32,000-strong NATO-led force took command of security operations in Afghanistan last month. The US is still leading a smaller coalition to focus on counterterrorism operations and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

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