Americans killed in suicide attack as Taliban overrun Helmand district

KABUL -- A suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol Monday killing six foreign troops, among them Americans, in the deadliest attack on international forces since August.

See Full Article

The attack happened as Taliban fighters overran a strategic district in southern Helmand province, the scene of some of the deadliest fighting between the Taliban and international combat forces prior to the 2014 withdrawal, adding weight to Pentagon predictions that the insurgency is gaining strength.

The soldiers were targeted as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings.

A U.S. official said some of the dead were American, but the exact number remained unclear. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another three NATO troops were wounded in the attack, according to U.S. Army Brig. Gen William Shoffner, head of public affairs at NATO's Resolute Support base in the Afghan capital Kabul.

"Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season," Shoffner said in a statement.

It was the largest attack on foreign troops in four months. On August 22, three American contractors with the RS base were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. On August 7 and 8, Kabul was the scene of three insurgent attacks within 24 hours that left at least 35 people dead. One of the attacks, on a U.S. special operations forces base outside Kabul, left one U.S soldier and eight Afghan civilian contractors dead.

In the year since the international drawdown, the Taliban insurgency has intensified. Although the combat mission ended last year, around 9,800 U.S. troops and almost 4,000 NATO forces remain in Afghanistan. They have a mandate to "train, assist and advise" their Afghan counterparts, who are now effectively fighting a battle-hardened Taliban alone.

Monday's attack came as Taliban gunmen and government forces battled for control of a strategic district in the southern province of Helmand after it was overrun by insurgents, delivering a serious blow to the government's thinly spread and exhausted forces.

Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, Helmand's deputy governor, said insurgents took control of Sangin district late Sunday.

Rasulyar had taken the unusual step of alerting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the dire security situation and requesting urgent reinforcements through an open letter posted on Facebook on Sunday, saying that he had not been able to make contact with him through other means.

"We had to take to social media to reach you as Helmand is falling into the hands of the enemy and it requires your immediate attention," Rasulyar wrote in his Facebook post to Ghani.

On Monday, the Defence Ministry spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, said Afghan Army commandoes and special forces had arrived in Sangin to push a counter-offensive. He told reporters the Afghan air force had conducted 160 combat and transport flights over Sangin in the past 48 hours.

Helmand is an important Taliban base as it produces most of the world's opium, a crop that helps fund the insurgency.

Sangin district has bounced in and out of Taliban control for some years, and fighting there has produced some of the highest casualty counts among Afghan and international forces in 14 years of war.

British forces saw intensive fighting there at the height of the war in 2006 and 2007. Britain lost more than 450 troops during its combat mission in Afghanistan, more than 100 of them in Sangin. In 2008, a battalion of U.S. Marines arrived in Helmand, followed a year later by the first wave of President Barack Obama's "surge" effort against the Taliban comprising 11,000 Marines who conducted operations across the province.

The head of Helmand's provincial council, Muhammad Kareem Atal, said that about 65 per cent of Helmand is now under Taliban control. "In every district either we are stepping back or we are handing territory over to Taliban, but still, until now, no serious action has been taken," he said, referring to a perceived lack of support from the capital.

Districts across Helmand, including Nad Ali, Kajaki, Musa Qala, Naw Zad, Gereshk and Garmser, have all been threatened by Taliban takeover in recent months. Insurgents are also believed to be dug in on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Taliban fighters, sometimes working with other insurgent groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have managed to overrun many districts across the country this year, and also staged a three-day takeover of the major northern city of Kunduz. They rarely hold territory for more than a few hours or days, but the impact on the morale of Afghan forces, and people, is substantial.

Atal, the head of the provincial council, said more than 2,000 security forces personnel had been killed fighting in Helmand in 2015. He said a major reason Afghan forces were "losing" was the large number of soldiers and police deserting their posts in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

The fighting in Afghanistan has intensified since the announcement in late July that the founder and leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for more than two years. His deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, succeeded him, causing internal ructions and delaying the likelihood that a peace dialogue with the Afghan government, halted after the announcement of Mullah Omar's death, will restart in the foreseeable future.

The expected winter lull in fighting has not yet taken place in the southern warmer provinces. U.S. and Afghan military leaders say they are expecting a hot winter, followed by a tough fight throughout 2016. Faced with a war-hardened insurgency and limited international assistance, government forces are wearing thin.

The Pentagon released a report last week warning that the security situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate as a "resilient Taliban-led insurgency remains an enduring threat to U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces, as well as to the Afghan people."

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Humayoon Babur and Amir Shah in Kabul and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this story.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Kingston, Ont., woman, 42, charged after being found naked in stranger's bathtub

    Canada News CTV News
    KINGSTON, Ont. - Police say a woman is facing charges after she was found lounging naked in a stranger's bathtub in Kingston, Ont. They say that when the complainant arrived home on Sunday evening, she found the nude woman in the unfilled tub. Source
  • Saskatchewan ends ban on Alberta plates at its job sites

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON - The licence plate fight between Saskatchewan and Alberta is over. An Alberta government spokesman says Saskatchewan informed them by letter today it is rescinding its ban on vehicles with Alberta licence plates on Saskatchewan government project sites. Source
  • Any steak specials? RCMP dashcam catches cougar in front of Banff grocery store

    Canada News CTV News
    BANFF, Alta. -- An RCMP officer on a traffic stop in Banff caught more than he expected on his car's dash camera. The video, which shows the constable talking to a motorist, captured a cougar dashing by a couple of metres away -- in front of a grocery store. Source
  • 'Unnecessary risks' to blame for record high snowmobile deaths in Ontario: OPP

    Canada News CTV News
    The winter of 2016-2017 had the highest number of snowmobile-related fatalities in Ontario on record, provincial police say. During the season, Ontario Provincial Police responded to 27 snowmobile deaths, marking a record high in snowmobile-related fatalities since the winter of 2003-2004. Source
  • USA Gymnastics leaders resign amid sex abuse scandal

    World News CBC News
    Three key leaders at USA Gymnastics resigned Monday as more women and girls told a judge about being sexually assaulted at the hands of a sports doctor who spent years with Olympic gymnasts and other female athletes. Source
  • 5 missing after Oklahoma rig explosion, emergency official says

    World News CBC News
    Five people are missing after a fiery explosion ripped through an eastern Oklahoma drilling rig Monday morning, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and leaving a derrick crumpled on the ground, an emergency official said. Source
  • Lawyers slam 'de facto expulsion' of student guilty of sexual interference

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY - The Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association is criticizing what it calls the de facto expulsion of a University of Calgary student convicted of a sexual offence. Connor Neurauter pleaded guilty to sexual interference with a minor in Kamloops, B.C. Source
  • LIVE: Funeral held for boy killed in N.S. house fire

    Canada News CTV News
    The funeral for one of the four children who died in a southern Nova Scotia house fire is being held. Mason Grant, 7, died in a house fire in West Pubnico, N.S. on Jan. Source
  • More than 600 at funeral for N.S. boy who died in fire

    Canada News CTV News
    YARMOUTH, N.S. -- The funeral for one of four children killed in a house fire in southern Nova Scotia was held today for a little boy known for his infectious smile and unusual sense of humour. Source
  • In Syria's Aleppo, old bazaar struggles to come back to life

    World News CTV News
    ALEPPO, Syria -- Fighting has long died down in Syria's largest city, but Aleppo's centuries-old market has yet to come back to life, more than a year after government forces retook rebel-held neighbourhoods around the Old City. Source