KABUL, Afghanistan – Suspected Al Qaeda terrorists attacked a contingent of U.S. and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan, sparking a firefight in which five fighters were killed, a spokesman for the U.S. military said Monday.
The attack occurred Friday in the Barmal district of eastern Paktika province (search), U.S. military spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty told The Associated Press.
"Anti-coalition forces attacked U.S. and Afghan National Army forces in the Barmal area," Hilferty said. "We returned fire and killed five Al Qaeda terrorists," he said, adding that eight Afghan soldiers were wounded in the clash.
He did not say what led coalition forces to believe the men were part of Usama bin Laden's terror network, as opposed to members of the ousted Taliban (search) regime, who have also been carrying out attacks on U.S. forces and their Afghan allies.
Hilferty strongly denied allegations by Paktika police chief Daulat Khan that U.S. forces had killed six civilians in the area on the same day.
"We take our rules of engagement very seriously and I can assure you that these terrorists were not peaceful civilians," the spokesman said in an e-mail response to a written request for information about the incident.
Khan had said six civilians were killed when U.S. warplanes dropped a bomb on their vehicle on a road in Barmal on Friday.
Meanwhile, the military announced that U.S. and Afghan forces pursuing suspected Taliban insurgents through the steep, snow-covered mountains of eastern Afghanistan had confiscated rockets, mortars and other ammunition in recent days.
But there has been no fighting since Friday in the operation, dubbed Mountain Resolve, which began Nov. 7 in Nuristan and Kunar provinces, Hilferty said.
An American soldier was killed on Friday when his vehicle struck an explosive device near Asadabad, the capital of Kunar. An American soldier also was reported wounded there, but it was not known if he was hurt in the same explosion.
On Saturday, U.S. soldiers found a weapons cache of about 100 small rockets, a few hundred mortar rounds and other ammunition, he said during a briefing. Hilferty declined to say when or exactly where the material was discovered, saying only that it was confiscated near a compound in Nuristan.
Insurgents believed linked to the Taliban regime, which was ousted from power in Afghanistan two years ago by the U.S.-led coalition, and suspected Al Qaeda members, have stepped up attacks against coalition forces, supporters of Afghanistan's central government and aid agencies.
Recently, there have been several clashes with Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects in Paktika, a province bordering Pakistan, south of where Operation Mountain Resolve is being conducted. Last month, two CIA agents were killed in an ambush there near the base at Shkin.