GHAZNI, Afghanistan – A group of 75 Taliban militants tried to overrun a U.S.-led coalition base in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a rare frontal attack that left more than 20 militants dead, the coalition said in a statement.
The insurgents attacked Firebase Anaconda from three sides, using gunfire, grenades and 107 mm rockets, the coalition said. A joint Afghan-U.S. force repelled the attack with mortars, machine guns and air support.
"Almost two dozen insurgents were confirmed killed in the attack," the statement said. Four girls aged 2 to 12 and two Afghan soldiers were wounded during the fight in Uruzgan province, it said.
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A firebase like Anaconda is usually a remote outpost staffed by as few as several dozen soldiers.
"The inability of the insurgent forces to inflict any severe damage on Firebase Anaconda, while being simultaneously decimated in the process, should be a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of their fighters," said Army Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman, a coalition spokeswoman.
A direct attack on a U.S. or NATO base by insurgents on foot is relatively rare. More often insurgents fire rockets at bases and flee. Military officials say that Taliban fighters know they can't match Western militaries in a heads-up battle, which leads the insurgents to more often rely on roadside and homicide bombs.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials and Taliban leaders were expected to agree Tuesday on a meeting place to negotiate the release of 21 South Korean hostages, an Afghan politician said.
The South Koreans and Taliban representatives have been talking by phone for several days and planned to determine a location for their first face-to-face talks by the end of the day, said Gov. Marajudin Pathan, the leader in Ghazni province, where the Koreans were kidnapped.
"There will be one of our government officials in the talks as well," Pathan told The Associated Press.
Pathan said that the meeting is likely to take place in Ghazni province, but could not provide any further details. South Koreans embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
In South Korea, relatives of the hostages expressed disappointment Tuesday that meetings Sunday and Monday at Camp David between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Bush failed to produce concrete measures to bring the captives home.
The Afghan and U.S. presidents ruled out making any concessions to the Taliban militants during their meetings.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon cautioned that the country should be prepared for a protracted ordeal, noting that other hostages in Afghanistan had been held an average of 35 days.
Song also said none of the captives were suffering from critical health problems.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said the meeting between Karzai and Bush had "no result," and that militant prisoners must be released in exchange for the lives of South Korean hostages or there will be a "bad result."
The militants kidnapped 23 Korean aid workers traveling by bus from Kabul to Kandahar on July 19. Two male hostages have been killed.
Taliban militants clashed with police in two separate incidents in southern Afghanistan, leaving five militants and two officers dead, officials said Tuesday.
The militants attacked police at a checkpoint in Zabul province on Monday, and the ensuing clash left five suspected militants dead, said Ali Kheil, the spokesman for Zabul's governor.
Also Monday, militants attacked a police vehicle just outside Kandahar city, killing two officers and wounding eight others, said provincial police chief Syed Agha Saqib. The attackers escaped and police are hunting for them, he said.
Insurgent attacks and military operations have killed more than 3,600 people so far this year, most of them militants. Much of the violence has been concentrated in the former Taliban stronghold in the south.
Also in southern Afghanistan, Dutch soldiers fatally shot a motorcyclist who approached their convoy and failed to heed warning signals and shots, the Dutch Defense Ministry said.
International forces are often the targets of homicide bombers, and they repeatedly warn Afghan civilian motorists to slow down or steer clear of convoys so they are not mistaken for attackers. Several civilians have been killed in such incidents.
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