BAGRAM, Afghanistan – A top Afghan insurgent leader operating from inside Pakistan sent some 200 ill-equipped fighters, some wearing plastic bags on their feet, into Afghanistan where most were killed in a major battle this week, a top U.S. general said Saturday.
U.S. forces killed about 130 fighters moving in two groups in the eastern province of Paktika late Wednesday and early Thursday, one of the largest winter battles in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
"There's Taliban leaders in Pakistan," Freakley said. "We know that this group ... were from Jalaluddin Haqqani and we believe, though we don't know exactly where, that Jalaluddin Haqqani is operating from inside Pakistan and sending men to fight in Afghanistan."
Western and Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Taliban fighters using Pakistani soil as a training ground from crossing the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan says it does all it can to stop the fighters.
No officials in Pakistan could immediately be reached late Saturday for comments.
Freakley said that one of the enemies in the Afghan-Pakistan border area is unemployment.
"It is clear to me that some of these men were just either collected in a poor part of a village or perhaps from a madrassa or perhaps from a refugee camp and told to come fight," he said. "The message to the enemies of Afghanistan and the enemies of world peace would be that you can come at us with two people, 20 people, 200 people, 2,000 people, you'll be defeated and your young men will needlessly be killed."
Freakley said it was likely the insurgent fighters meant to attack a new military outpost near the village of Marghah that has affected insurgent infiltration routes.
In southern Afghanistan, meanwhile, NATO troops fought insurgents Saturday in a battle that left one Western soldier dead — NATO's first fatality of the year.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the soldier died during an operation and that air support was used against insurgent positions.
The nationality of the soldier was not released. NATO refused to release any other details until the next of kin were notified.
Taliban militants stepped up attacks last year, and insurgent-related violence killed some 4,000.