Fighting erupts in southern Afghanistan, one U.S. soldier, 16 suspected rebels killed |

Fighting erupts in southern Afghanistan, one U.S. soldier, 16 suspected rebels killed

KABUL, Afghanistan – Fighting sparked by an insurgent attack on patrolling coalition forces in southern Afghanistan killed one U.S. service member and at least 16 suspected Taliban rebels, amid spiraling violence ahead of key legislative elections, the military said Tuesday.The American – the fourth U.S. casualty in less than a week – was killed when militants opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades on Afghan and U.S. forces Monday in Zabul province’s Day Chopan district, a remote and mountainous region known as a hub of rebel activity.U.S. and coalition aircraft joined the ensuing battle. The American military said in a statement that “initial estimates indicate at least 16 enemy forces were killed.” It gave no further details about the U.S. casualty, pending notification of relatives.The U.S. and Afghan forces had been conducting operations in Day Chopan aimed at “routing enemy forces,” the statement said. Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force-76, was quoted as saying the forces “will continue this search and attack mission to ensure there are no enemy safe havens in this region.”Zabul province has been at the core of recent unrest in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants remain active and have waged attacks that have left more than 900 people dead since March.Officials have warned the violence is likely to intensify ahead of legislative elections set for Sept. 18, considered a critical step toward stability in Afghanistan after years of war and civil strife.The latest U.S. casualty follows the deaths of three American service members in eastern Afghanistan last Thursday. Two drowned when their Humvee vehicle slid into a river near Jalalabad city; a third was killed by a roadside bomb in Paktika province, near the Pakistan border.More than 17,000 U.S. service members are in Afghanistan, and over 170 have died in and around the country since Operation Enduring Freedom began in late 2001 to oust the hard-line Taliban regime after the Sept. 11 attacks.Also, two American troops were wounded Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in eastern Ghazni province, the military said.In other violence, four suspected Taliban guerrillas attacked a medical clinic in eastern Ghazni province Monday, killing a doctor.Villagers in the province’s Andar district retaliated against the attackers and a fire fight broke out, killing a bystander, said Ghazni’s Gov. Haji Sher Allam. Police intervened, arresting two wounded guerrillas, while the other two fled, he said.Such attacks have become commonplace in recent months, after a winter lull in fighting. A U.S.-supported effort to get Taliban fighters to defect to the government side has seen scores lay down their weapons, but not in sufficient numbers to signal an end to the violence targeting coalition forces and the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.Karzai’s government accuses neighboring Pakistan of not doing enough to prevent insurgents from infiltrating the rugged border to stage attacks – although Pakistan maintains it has tens of thousands of troops posted at the frontier to do just that.

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