An insurgent raid that penetrated an American outpost in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine soldiers, has deepened doubts about the U.S. military’s effort to contain Islamic militants.
Early Sunday, about 200 fighters surrounded the newly built base in a remote area near the Pakistani border without being spotted by the troops inside, said Gen. Mohammed Qasim Jangalbagh, the provincial police chief.
He said people in the adjacent village of Wanat aided the assault. About 20 families left their homes in anticipation of the raid, while other tribesmen stayed “and helped the insurgents during the fight,” Jangalbagh said.
The result was the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 soldiers were killed aboard a helicopter shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Violence has been increasing in Afghanistan, and many people are questioning the operation, wondering whether the Taliban-led insurgency is gaining, rather than losing, momentum seven years after the fundamentalist Islamic regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion.
A North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said the attackers used houses, shops and a mosque in Wanat for cover during the hours-long battle. The militants fired machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.
The soldiers managed to drive out the attackers and called in air support. Attack helicopters swooped over the battlefield, and in hours of fighting dozens of insurgents were killed and about 40 were wounded, the official said.