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U.S. troops abandon remote Afghan base where 8 were killed

Officials say the departure from the base in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province is part a previously planned 'repositioning' of troops. The Taliban says it drove out the soldiers.

October 10, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — American troops have abandoned an isolated firebase where eight U.S. soldiers were killed in a fierce assault by insurgents last weekend, military officials said Friday.

The departure from the base in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province, in northeastern Afghanistan, was part of a previously planned "repositioning" of troops, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

The Taliban, in its own statement, said it had driven the Americans out.

The daylong battle Oct. 3 in Kamdesh, in which at least four Afghan troops and 100 attackers also were reported killed, was reminiscent of a much-scrutinized engagement in the area in July 2008. In that battle, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and their remote firebase was nearly overrun.

In last week's attack, insurgents managed to penetrate the base's perimeters, military officials have acknowledged, a rare occurrence in clashes between Taliban fighters and the much better armed Western forces.

The pullout from the battered Kamdesh base was described as part of a larger strategy laid out by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of Western forces in Afghanistan. His counterinsurgency plan calls for troops to concentrate their attention on populated areas rather than continue to staff isolated outposts that are vulnerable to attack and have little effect on the insurgents' ability to move in a given area.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has not specified how many bases were dismantled as part of the pullback, which mainly affected installations in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border.

U.S. forces destroyed what was left of the Kamdesh base before departing, military officials said. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told Western news agencies by telephone that the Taliban flag was flying over the outpost site.

With Western troop casualties at record levels as the war enters its ninth year, the NATO-led coalition Friday disclosed the death of another of its soldiers a day earlier, in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The soldier's nationality was not immediately released.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials said a joint operation by Western and Afghan troops had killed a senior militant commander in the province of Herat, which borders Iran.

They said the overnight raid left about 20 militants dead, including Ghulam Yahya Akbari, who was mayor of Herat before going over to the Taliban. He had been terrorizing the city for months with ambushes, abductions and other attacks.

Akbari's defection to the insurgency had been seen by many as a sign of rising frustration with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who is in a bitter struggle over his August bid for reelection. The vote was tainted by allegations of massive fraud, and results of a recount, based on a statistical sampling of suspect ballots, are expected to be released in coming weeks.

Elsewhere in the country, insurgents pressed ahead with a campaign to halt reconstruction efforts by attacking public works projects. A suicide bomber struck a road-construction project in the eastern province of Paktia, killing five workers and injuring four other people, provincial police said.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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