2 U.S. Troops Killed in Afghan Blast

Last updated 7:43 a.m. ET.

Taliban militants attacked a U.S. coalition base in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday with an explosives-laden truck that blew up outside the gates, sparking a two-hour gun battle and killing two American troops, officials said.

U.S. forces called in air strikes to end the clash, killing more than 30 insurgents in Zerok district of Paktika province, said Hamidullah Zawak, the provincial governor spokesman. Seven U.S. and two Afghan troops were wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The multi-pronged attack near the Pakistan border is hundreds of miles from the massive Marine assault in southern Afghanistan and underscores the militants' ability to inflict casualties on the over-stretched U.S. forces as they widen their battle against the Taliban, who have made a violent comeback following their initial defeat in the American-led 2001 invasion.

Responding to the deteriorating security situation, President Barack Obama's administration has ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

As part of the new strategy, 4,000 Marines poured into volatile Helmand province on Thursday in the biggest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since 2001, trying to cut insurgent supply lines and win over local elders.

Also in the south, a roadside bomb Saturday killed seven policemen in Kandahar province, the Interior Ministry statement said. Another two Afghan soldiers died in a separate blast in Helmand province's Musa Qala district also Saturday, the Defense Ministry said.

The attack in the east started when insurgents drove an explosives-laden truck filled with gravel toward the gates of the American base, Zawak said. After the truck driver did not heed warnings to stop, the troops opened fire on the truck, which exploded, he said.

For two hours, insurgents then fired at the base from several locations before U.S.-called air strikes ended the fight, he said.

Two U.S. troops were killed and seven were wounded in the assault, said Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh, a U.S. military spokesman. Two Afghan soldiers were also wounded, he said. The base housed both U.S. and Afghan soldiers, he said.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack. After the blast, some 100 Taliban fighters fired at the coalition troops for several hours, briefly taking over two of their checkpoints, Mujaheed said.

Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said none of their reporting suggested that Taliban took over any checkpoint.

Zawak said 32 insurgents were killed in the air strikes, and that authorities have already recovered 16 bodies. Mujaheed said five insurgents were killed and three were wounded.

It is impossible to independently verify Zawak's and Mujaheed's claims because the base is in a remote area.

Saturday's attack happened in the same province where an American soldier and three Afghans were believed captured by insurgents Tuesday.

U.S. troops continued looking for the soldier, Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo said Friday. The military has not publicly identified him.

No immediate claim of responsibility was made by any insurgent group for the missing soldier or Saturday's attack.

Taliban factions led by Sirajuddin Haqqani operate in the area where the attack took place. The U.S. has accused Haqqani of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings, including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 60 people.
By Associated Press Writer Fisnik Abrashi
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