KABUL, Afghanistan — Two U.S. Marines were killed as troops battled a band of insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, the military said early today.
The clash occurred Sunday in Laghman province, a military statement said. U.S. forces have regularly clashed with militants in the opium-producing region.
No details were given about any casualties among the estimated 25 insurgents.
The battle took place the same day that an Afghan government spokesman said hundreds of tribal leaders had backed President Hamid Karzai's plan for a strategic partnership with the United States.
More than 1,000 elders and officials from across Afghanistan met with Karzai on Sunday in the presidential palace in Kabul, spokesman Jawed Ludin said.
"Our finding from today's discussion was that people are, on the whole, very positive about this," Ludin said at a news conference, adding that only one person had spoken against the plan. He didn't describe the man's objections.
Karzai will probably talk about the partnership, which Afghan officials say must cover economic and political links as well as military aid, in a meeting with President Bush in Washington this month, the spokesman said.
About 17,000 U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan pursuing Al Qaeda fighters and militant followers of the ousted Taliban. A separate NATO-led force has about 8,500 troops in the capital and across the north and west.
U.S. commanders have said they expect to have forces in the country, which borders Iran, nuclear-armed Pakistan and oil-rich Central Asia, for many years.
Ludin said the government wanted U.S. as well as NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan until Afghan government forces were able to take their place.
The parliament to be elected in the fall would have the final word on any treaties, Ludin said.
As the political discussions went on, officials said a U.N. engineer from Myanmar was killed along with two other people in a Saturday suicide bombing of an Internet cafe in Kabul. His name was not released.
One of the three dead appeared to be the bomber, Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said. The third fatality and five people wounded were Afghan customers.