The US military suffered its 1,000th death of the Afghan war yesterday according to figures compiled by the Associated Press, when NATO reported a solider killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan.
Although a NATO statement failed to identify the victim’s name or nationality, US spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks confirmed the soldier was American.
US, NATO and Afghan forces are gearing up for a major operation in the south in a bid to shore up government control of Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban’s former headquarters.
The list of US service members killed in combat in Afghanistan begins with Sergeant 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman of San Antonio, Texas. The 31-year-old career Special forces soldier was ambushed on Jan. 4, 2002, after attending a meeting with Afghan leaders in Khost Province. The base where a suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees in December last year bears his name.
Elsewhere, Afghan officials said they still had no confirmation of reports that a Pakistani Taliban leader who spearheaded the takeover of Pakistan’s Swat Valley three years ago was killed this week in a fierce battle with Afghan forces in remote eastern Afghanistan.
Hundreds of militants have been trying since Sunday to seize control of the Barg-e-Matal district of Nuristan Province along the Pakistani border and fighting continued in the area yesterday.
Villagers who took part in the fighting reported that they had killed Taliban commander, Maulana Fazlullah, along with six of his fighters during an insurgent attack on Wednesday, said General Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, commander of the Afghan border police in eastern Afghanistan.
Nuristan police Chief Mohammad Qasim said officials were unable to confirm the death of Fazlullah, who gained prominence in 2007 as the “Radio Mullah” for his anti-Western sermons on local radio stations in the Swat Valley.
In Pakistan, Maulana Faqir Mohammed, Taliban chief in the Bajur area, confirmed that Fazlullah had gone to Nuristan with his fighters.
“We are trying to contact him ... We believe that he is safe and he has not been killed,” he said.
Meanwhile, the US Senate approved funds on Thursday to pay for US President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan troop increase but rejected a demand that he submit a timetable to bring US forces home.
The chamber’s top Democrats were split over an Afghan exit strategy, with some influential lawmakers backing the call for one.
Their support could encourage other liberal Democrats who are pushing for a similar proposal in the House of Representatives.
The House is expected to take up its version of the war funds legislation next month.
Most of the US$33 billion in war spending approved by the Senate is to finance the 30,000 troop “surge” in Afghanistan that Obama announced in December, although some of it covers expenses in Iraq. The new money is in addition to about US$130 billion Congress already approved for Afghanistan and Iraq for this year — and more than US$300 billion.