World News

Toll from Afghan base raids rises

KABUL (Reuters) - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said on Sunday more than 30 insurgents, including at least 13 suicide bombers, were killed when foreign and Afghan troops repelled al Qaeda-linked fighters who attacked two bases.

Despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

Insurgents have launched increasingly brazen attacks around the country in a bid to topple the government and force foreign troops to leave.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Sunday four more of its troops had been killed, taking to seven the number killed in the last two days in the south and east. An ISAF spokesman said all seven were Americans.

At least 2,040 foreign troops have been killed since the war began, more than 60 percent of them Americans, according to website and figures compiled by Reuters. Of those, at least 252 have died in the last three months.

The spiraling toll comes as public opinion turns against the war in the United States, where President Barack Obama faces rocky mid-term Congressional elections in November. Obama has also promised an Afghanistan strategy review in December.

On Saturday, ISAF said it had killed 24 insurgents as its troops fought off the attacks on the two bases together with Afghan troops. On Sunday, it raised the toll to at least 30. Four ISAF troops were wounded in the attacks but none killed, it said.

Many of those killed belonged to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, it said. The Taliban said on Saturday about 30 of its fighters launched the attacks in Khost province, near the eastern border with Pakistan where foreign forces have stepped up operations against a resurgent Taliban.

The Haqqani network, led by the aging guerrilla commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, is mainly active in the southeast of the country. While thought to be loosely allied to the Taliban, the Haqqanis often carry out separate operations. A Haqqani network commander was killed in an air strike called in after the raids.

On Sunday, ISAF said foreign and Afghan troops captured a Haqqani commander and two other militants involved in the raids.

NATO also said it had carried out an air strike in northern Kunduz on Saturday aimed at a senior commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was responsible for controlling foreign insurgents in the area. One insurgent was killed.

Kunduz province has seen significant inroads by insurgents as they pushed out of traditional strongholds in the south and east over the past two years.

Saturday’s attacks in Khost were the latest in a string of such raids in recent months. Similar raids have been launched on heavily fortified bases in Bagram to the north of the capital, Kandahar in the south, and Kabul itself.

As Taliban-led insurgents launch increasingly brazen attacks around Afghanistan, foreign troops have also stepped up operations, especially in the south, leading to a sharp rise in foreign troop deaths.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting, with thousands of ordinary Afghans killed as they are caught in the crossfire. Civilian deaths were up by 31 percent in the first six months of this year, according to a United Nations report.

Editing by Paul Tait and Jon Hemming