US calls in airstrikes, 5 Taliban killed in clash
* Security reinforced on border to prevent Al Qaeda infiltration
KABUL: US forces called in air strikes against suspected Taliban positions on Friday after two US soldiers and at least five militants were killed in a clash in central Afghanistan, the US military said.
The fighting in Uruzgan province, south of the capital Kabul, occurred amid a stepped up hunt by US forces for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, including Osama Bin Laden. US and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers came under fire on Thursday while on patrol in a village in Uruzgan’s Tarin Kot district, U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing.
The soldiers returned fire, killing at least five attackers. Two US soldiers were wounded, one of whom was evacuated to Germany for treatment, he said.
Hilferty said the US soldiers were from the 10th Mountain Division, but did not identify them.
“Coalition and ANA operations continue in this area,” he said. ‘Early this morning we re-engaged the enemy with direct fire and fire support from US aircraft.”
Hilferty did not give details of the latest engagement or say whether it had inflicted any casualties. He said the area was one in which Taliban guerrillas were active.
US and Afghan forces strengthened their positions on the Afghan frontier on Friday, Afghan authorities said, vowing to prevent Osama bin Laden’s deputy from escaping a manhunt across the border in Pakistan where he is believed to be surrounded.
Border officials said Pakistan appeared to have blocked roads leading from the showdown in the South Waziristan tribal area, where Pakistani officials said forces had trapped Al Qaeda No 2 Ayman al-Zawahri in a massive four-day offensive.
US forces and their Afghan allies were enforcing “tight security” on the Afghan side, senior Defense Ministry official Gen. Atiquallah Ludin said, pledging: “Al Qaeda cannot escape or enter Afghan soil.”
Afghan troops on Friday were backing US efforts to hold a cordon along the eastern frontier, strengthened since Thursday by deployments including the dispatch of 250 extra Afghan National Army troops to Khost, north of the standoff, Ludin said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said “a few hundred” extra troops had been sent to the border region in Paktika province, opposite the area of the Pakistani operation, to help block escape routes.
US and Afghan troops have captured “semi-senior” terrorist leaders along the border with Pakistan, an Afghan government spokesman said on Friday.
The arrests were made in Afghanistan’s lawless border provinces, said Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai. He said it was unclear if those detained had fled a massive offensive by Pakistani forces against terrorists, and declined to give any details of who might be in custody.
“In recent days, there have been arrests, there have been encounters,” Mr Ludin said. “Some of the arrests have included semi-senior leadership within the terrorist elements on the Afghan side, possibly with strong links to Al Qaeda.” He declined to comment on their nationality. —Agencies