Taliban under attack in area where U.S. soldiers killed

ASADABAD, Afghanistan Mon Oct 5, 2009 1:38pm EDT

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ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Foreign and Afghan forces launched an assault on Monday against a group of Taliban in an area of eastern Afghanistan where the militants killed eight American soldiers at the weekend, an official said.

Saturday's attacks in remote Nuristan province near the Pakistani border were the deadliest on U.S. forces in more than a year.

Nuristan's governor, Jamaluddin Badr, said foreign and Afghan troops besieged a group of Taliban in an area of the province's Kamdesh district on Monday, but did not give further details.

"The operation started this morning," Badr told Reuters by phone. A press officer for U.S. and NATO-led troops said there was "activity ongoing" in the area but gave no further details.

At least two Afghan security forces members were killed in Saturday's battle along with the eight Americans. Provincial authorities on Sunday said they had lost contact with the police force in the area after the day-long battle.

Badr said 13 police, including the top commander for the district, had gone missing and the rest were believed to have abandoned their posts and gone home.

The Taliban say they are holding 35 police, including the police chief. In Kabul, the Interior Ministry said that the government had lost contact with a "number of police", but did not say how many.

The Taliban attack coincided with a plan to abandon the two outposts as part of a new strategy by the commander of NATO and U.S. forces, General Stanley McChrystal, to focus on population centers.

Militia from a local mosque and a nearby village launched the attacks on two joint NATO and Afghan outposts with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and rifles, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.

The attacks were the deadliest for U.S. forces since nine were killed in a July 2008 battle in nearby Kunar province. U.S. forces have suffered some of their worst casualties in the east, where they have tried to control remote mountain passes used by Taliban fighters as infiltration routes from Pakistan.

In other attacks, one U.S. service member was killed by insurgents on Sunday in southern Afghanistan, and a NATO service member was killed on Monday by a bomb in the south.

(Additional Reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Peter Graff)

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