6 U.S. soldiers die when van blows up at Afghan outpost
Six U.S. soldiers were killed and more than a dozen American and Afghan troops were wounded Sunday morning when a van packed with explosives...
The New York Times
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Seattle Times news services
ZHARE, Afghanistan — Six U.S. soldiers were killed and more than a dozen American and Afghan troops were wounded Sunday morning when a van packed with explosives was detonated at a new jointly operated outpost in southern Afghanistan.
The soldiers were inside a small mud-walled building near the village of Sangsar, north of the Arghandab River, when the bomber drove up to one of the walls and exploded his charge about 9 a.m.
The blast could be heard eight miles away, and it sent a dusty cloud towering over the surrounding farmland.
The explosion blasted a hole in the thick wall, causing the roof to collapse on the soldiers inside. Others quickly arrived and clawed and pulled at the waist-deep rubble to free the buried troops.
The building had been occupied by the Americans and Afghans for only a few days, a U.S. official said, and was beside a narrow road. It was not immediately clear how the van managed to get so close without being challenged or stopped.
Gen. Abdul Hameed, a commander in the Afghan National Army, said in a telephone interview that his soldiers had tried to stop the van but that its driver ignored them and rammed the vehicle into the building.
After the van exploded, the adjacent field became a busy landing zone, with four medical-evacuation helicopters arriving to shuttle the victims to two military hospitals in nearby Kandahar.
Taliban take credit
The Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for the bombing. "We have killed numbers of Americans and Afghan soldiers and wrecked and ruined their security check post," a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said by telephone. "We will carry out similar attacks in the future."
In addition to the six dead Americans, four U.S. soldiers were wounded, but their injuries were not considered life-threatening, said officials familiar with their conditions. The names of the victims were withheld pending the notification of relatives.
American fatalities in Afghanistan have risen steadily for five years, with 479 American soldiers killed so far in 2010, according to icasualties.org, an independent website. That is more than three times the 155 American casualties in 2008.
Despite the Taliban's claim, it appeared no Afghan soldiers had been killed in the attack.
There were conflicting official reports of the number of Afghans wounded. Some said 11 Afghan soldiers had been wounded; others put the number as high as 14. At least one Afghan soldier, who was seen by two journalists aboard a medical-evacuation helicopter, had a head injury and appeared to be gravely wounded.
Most of the other injured Afghans were walking on their own, and appeared to have suffered cuts and shrapnel wounds. A medical official said they were expected to survive.
The attack occurred in an area where the Americans and Afghans have maintained a heavy military presence this fall, when NATO and Afghan forces flowed into Taliban-controlled territory of Kandahar province in an effort to clear it of insurgents and bring the area under the control of the Kabul government.
The Arghandab River Valley, a belt of irrigated fields and small villages, is dotted with a network of American and Afghan outposts.
Patrols crisscross the region each day, and new positions — like the outpost attacked Sunday — are being built.
Fighting has subsided in recent weeks as the weather has cooled and the leaves have fallen, making it more difficult for insurgents to hide.
But the Taliban continue to plant bombs and dispatch suicide bombers, and U.S. and Afghan soldiers are wounded or killed in the province almost every day.
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