NATO pushes Taliban back in east Afghan district

Associated Press
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, right, addresses a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, unseen, as an Afghan Presidential bodyguard holds the NATO flag, left, at the Presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists in Kabul that the "transition is on track" for the hand over of seven of Afghanistan's 34 provinces in July. Both Fogh Rasmussen and Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged insurgent fighters to lay down their weapons and embrace an ongoing peace process.  (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Airborne NATO and Afghan soldiers expelled Taliban fighters Wednesday from a government building they occupied in a remote eastern district and forced them to flee to surrounding mountains, a local official said, the latest fighting in a region bordering Pakistan's lawless tribal area.

The quick strike came in the Nuristan province in the country's east. The NATO-Afghan force pushed Taliban fighters back after they seized control of half of the district, kicking them out of the government building just a few hours after they overran it, Gov. Jamaludin Badar said.

As coalition forces came under fire, they called in airstrikes, killing at least 10 Taliban fighters, NATO said in a statement.

Though NATO declined to comment on the troops used in Wednesday's battle, they likely were U.S. soldiers, as NATO's eastern regional command is comprised mostly of American forces. An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said 100 commandos flew there with NATO forces and planned to remain on the ground through the fighting.

NATO said the battle was still going on late Wednesday afternoon. Taliban fighters, who used mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to seize control of Duab district, fled into the surrounding mountains and continued to fire down on NATO forces, Badar said.

Eight Taliban fighters have been killed in the last several days of fighting there, Badar said. Three police officers also were killed during that time, he said.

NATO later issued a statement denying that the district had been overrun as the local official had said.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups control large swaths of Nuristan, Kunar and other northeastern provinces near the Pakistani border. Insurgents have safe havens in Pakistan's neighboring lawless tribal regions and regularly cross the border into Afghanistan to attack NATO troops.

No Afghan military or NATO forces patrol Nuristan, leaving only lightly armed police to defend the province. NATO and Afghan soldiers have flown there in the past to put down fighting. During the last major Taliban assault there May 11, an Afghan military helicopter crashed as it ferried reinforcements to stop hundreds of militants assaulting four outposts just south of Nuristan's capital Parun. The Afghan military did not give details of casualties from the crash.

The Taliban also controls the tiny capital of Nuristan's rugged Waygal district, which they overran with more than 300 fighters on March 29. The insurgents there raised the white flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — as the country was known when it was under Taliban control before the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Near the capital Kabul, the Taliban shot dead the principal of a boys' only high school in Logar province. Taliban fighters on motorcycles cut off the principal's car on his way home from school on Tuesday afternoon and killed him in front of his teenage son, provincial police chief Gulam Sakhi Roghlewanai said.

Roghlewanai did not know the motive for the shooting.

"The Taliban and al-Qaida — they are against the government. It's clear," the police chief said.

NATO said a service member died in a bomb attack Wednesday in northern Afghanistan and another died Tuesday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan.

There were no details on the nationalities of the two, as NATO typically waits for national authorities to release information on deaths to make sure relatives have been informed.

The latest deaths brought to 30 the NATO troop fatalities so far this month and 181 deaths since the start of 2011.

NATO plans to hand over control of seven areas to the Afghan army in July, despite new bombings and assaults by insurgents who have begun their spring offensive. The U.S. plans to begin a gradual drawdown of troops at the same time.

The south — where the majority of international forces are based — has been particularly volatile this spring.

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