KABUL, Afghanistan – Raising fresh doubts about security in this troubled capital, gunmen assaulted a hilltop Afghan army post Wednesday, touching off a running, three-hour gunbattle that killed 16 people on Kabul's southern outskirts.
The firefight came as U.S. forces reported killing four men in a car in eastern Afghanistan the previous day. That incident was in the same area of Kunar province where Americans killed two men Monday, and Afghan leaders said the U.S. military operation had made local people edgy and angry.
Elsewhere, an American soldier was wounded Wednesday while on patrol south of Khost near the Pakistani border, according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The soldier's name and condition were not released, but Myers told reporters at the Pentagon that he was wounded in the chest.
The bloodshed in Kabul was the worst incident in the city since the U.S.-led victory over the Taliban. In the initial months, there were some small-scale shootings, then a vice president in the transitional government was assassinated July 6 and last week Afghan authorities reported intercepting a would-be car bomber in the heart of Kabul.
Wednesday's battle began about 7 a.m. when guerrillas armed with AK-47 assault rifles rushed an army post on a hill in the Bagram-i District, about six miles south of the center of the capital, said the local police commander, Col. Haji Rashid.
The army commander for Kabul, Bismullah Khan, told The Associated Press that his soldiers chased the attackers as they retreated to a nearby mountain, then surrounded and killed them.
His deputy, Najmuddin Khan, said the guerrillas took shelter in an excavation at the foot of the mountain slope and refused to surrender.
He told government television that 12 guerrillas and three soldiers died. In addition, a wounded civilian, apparently caught in the cross fire, died en route to a hospital, said Maj. Angela Herbert, a spokeswoman for the multinational peacekeeping force that patrols Kabul.
One guerrilla and four soldiers were reported wounded. There was no word on whether any attackers escaped.
Rashid said 20 soldiers and 20 police officers took part in the fight. There was no report of any Americans being involved.
Bismullah Khan, a deputy defense minister, told AP the slain men were "Arabs and Pakistanis," and his deputy told national television they were members of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network. Neither said how this had been determined.
The transitional Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. troops in Afghanistan are on guard against possible attacks by resurgent Taliban or Al Qaeda units.
American troops have been in Kunar, a province 120 miles northeast of Kabul that borders Pakistan, for more than a month searching for weapons and any armed remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
On Tuesday, American soldiers on patrol killed four men and wounded a fifth in an automobile driving along a road near Asadabad, the Kunar provincial capital, U.S. military and Afghan officials reported Wednesday.
Col. Roger King, chief spokesman at Bagram, the U.S. headquarters north of Kabul, first said the men in the car shot at the U.S. troops, who returned fire.
He later changed that, saying the troops were traveling in a convoy and when the car passed in the opposite direction someone inside pointed a weapon at them but it misfired. The Americans then opened fire, he said.
A large amount of Pakistani cash and a satellite telephone were found in the car, Myers said at the Pentagon.
The provincial intelligence chief, Jan Shah, told AP the Americans fired at the car after it failed to stop to be searched. He said the question of whether the men in the car were armed was under investigation.
Another local leader, provincial council member Sayed Ahmad Safi, said the Americans apparently began shooting when they saw an AK-47 rifle brandished in the car. Such weapons are still commonplace in the countryside, where tribal and other rivalries regularly flare into violence.
King, the U.S. military spokesman, said those killed were believed to be Al Qaeda members, but he cited no evidence.
A third local leader, tribal chief Haji Rooh Ullah, told AP the four men killed had no connections to foreign terrorists and were members of a family related to the former Taliban provincial governor.
Shah, the intelligence official, said the men were once Taliban members but had not been active against the new U.S.-supported government.
Safi said he expected the Kunar provincial council to meet as early as Thursday to discuss the U.S. military operation, and possibly would call on American officers to consult more closely with them on operations.
American military operations have killed dozens of innocent Afghans in the hunt for holdout Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Similar demands for more control over the U.S. military have been expressed in other provinces.
"The people are very sad and frightened" by the American operation in Kunar, Safi said.
"We are against Al Qaeda and the Taliban," he added. But "we should talk to the Americans about these things, so they don't happen again."