KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan and American forces killed 40 militants in 24 hours as they hunted mountainous eastern Afghanistan for insurgents behind one of the deadliest attacks of the war for U.S. troops, the defense ministry said Tuesday.
Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said 10 Afghan army troops were also killed in the same period around the country, most of them in Nuristan province's Kamdesh district, where eight Americans died Saturday after hundreds of Taliban militants overwhelmed their remote and thinly manned outposts.
The violence comes at a time when the Obama administration is grappling with how to quell the conflict, including whether the U.S. should send tens of thousands more troops. It also comes as the country nears a resolution to August's intensely disputed presidential vote. Election workers began recounting suspect ballots Monday and a ruling on whether President Hamid Karzai won or will face a runoff is likely next week.
Azimi said joint operations were ongoing Tuesday in Kamdesh and seven insurgents had been arrested there.
Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, an American media officer for NATO forces, however, said there had "not been any significant engagement" in Kamdesh since Saturday. She said U.S. and Afghan forces were still in the remote area and had not pulled out.
Also Tuesday, two foreign troops were wounded when insurgents detonated a bomb against a coalition convoy on the main highway through Wardak province, west of Kabul, Mathias said.
AP Television News footage from the site in Sayed Abad district showed one tan armored vehicle on its side near the road, with one of its blown-off wheels laying in a field as international forces secured the area.
In Logar province, southwest of Kabul, another patrol came under small arms and rocket-progpelled-grenade fire Tuesday, but no damage was reported and there were no casualties, Mathias said.
Logar police chief Gen. Mohammed Mustafa Mosseini said that attack sparked a gunbattle that led to the arrest of at least one militant. Mathias could not confirm any insurgents were detained.
In London, Britain's defense ministry said one British soldier died Monday after an explosion in southern Afghanistan. The soldier was on foot patrol near Nad Ali district center in the country's restive Helmand province.
This week, President Barack Obama and senior policy advisers are deciding whether to further escalate the conflict after adding 21,000 U.S. troops earlier this year. Congress, which is divided on the issue, takes up a massive defense spending bill this week even before the president will have time to settle on a direction for the war.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed Monday for calm amid the intense debate over the flagging war, and for time and privacy for the president to reach a decision. Gates' remarks appeared to be an implicit rebuke of the man he helped install as the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has been lobbying in public for additional troops.
Gates has not said whether he supports McChrystal's recommendation to expand the number of U.S. forces by as much as nearly 60 percent.