8 GIs Killed as Afghan Strategy Debated

During a firefight with Taliban militants, a spent shell casing flies through the air as U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Christie, of Washington, Ind. with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines returns fire, in Nawa district, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Taliban militants opened fire on the Marine patrol. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Hundreds of insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a pair of remote outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight U.S. soldiers and capturing more than 20 Afghan security troops in the deadliest assault against U.S. forces in more than a year, military officials said.

The fierce gun battle, which erupted at dawn Saturday in the Kamdesh district of mountainous Nuristan province and raged throughout the day, is likely to fuel the debate in Washington over the direction of the troubled eight-year war.

It was the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a raid on an outpost in Wanat in the same province.

That attack has prompted a U.S. military investigation into possible mistakes made by the commanders involved.

One of the American troops killed in the Wanat attack was Cpl. Jason Bogar, whose family has shared with CBS News his last letter home (Click for a special report).

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark reports that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, plans to move most American troops from the hard-to-defend remote outposts and into more heavily populated areas as part of his new strategy to focus on protecting Afghan civilians.

Meanwhile, McChrystal's recent public plea for more troops in Afghanistan prompted a mild rebuke Sunday from the White House national security adviser, as the administration heads into a second week of intensive negotiations over its evolving Afghan strategy.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

Retired Gen. James Jones said that decisions on how best to stabilize Afghanistan and beat back the insurgency must extend beyond troop levels to development and governance. And MchChrystal's request for up to 40,000 more troops is just one of three key elements advisers must consider as they meet this week to plot the way ahead.

Coming up on the "CBS Evening News": Afghanistan: The Road Ahead, a 3-part, in-depth examination of the escalating conflict, airing Oct. 5-7, 6:30 ET.

Jones added that it is "better for military advice to come up through the chain of command," rather than off a public stage, referring to McChrystal's speech in London last week making a case for more troops. But Jones also beat back suggestions that the open campaign could jeopardize the general's job.

McChrystal "is in it for the long haul," Jones said. "I don't think this is an issue."

Obama's senior advisers are set to meet twice this week to debate the Afghan strategy, juggling political pressure from the left to scale back combat troops with arguments from military leaders, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that additional forces are needed to secure the country and enable government and economic development advancements.

Jones said that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling to the Taliban, and he downplayed fears that the insurgency could set up a renewed sanctuary for al Qaeda. McChrystal has said that insurgents are gaining ground and the U.S. is in danger of failing unless more forces are sent to the fight.

"I don't foresee the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling," Jones said. "The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

He said Obama has received McChrystal's request for additional troops, and the force numbers will be part of a larger discussion that will include efforts to beef up the size and training of the Afghan army and police, along with economic development and governance improvements in Afghanistan.

Jones comments came just hours after militant forces overwhelmed the U.S. troops at two outposts near the Pakistan border, killing the eight soldiers.

American forces used artillery, helicopter gunships and air strikes Saturday to repel the attackers, inflicting "heavy enemy casualties," according to a NATO statement. Fighting persisted in the area Sunday, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

Taliban commander Mufti Musibah Nuristani, who claims to have participated in the siege, said in a phone call to CBS News' Sami Yousafzai that it was a "well-polished and organized attack" in Nuristan province.

"Afghan soldiers and police, including the district police chief, have been taken into custody," claimed Nuristani, who said the militants had also taken many weapons and some U.S. military vehicles.

He said video of the attack, or showing some of the stolen goods, would be released by the

Nuristani said five militants were killed in the fighting and six more were injured. His claims could not be independently verified by CBS News.

Another Taliban source in the area told Yousafzai that a significant number of Pakistani militants had participated in the attack.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay said the assailants included a mix of "tribal militias," Taliban and fighters loyal to Sirajudin Haqqani, an al Qaeda-linked militant based in sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

CBS News' Mandy Clark was recently embedded with American troops hunting for Haqqani in the villages along Afghanistan's eastern border.

Haqqani, one of America's most wanted men, was once courted by the CIA, reports Clark. Now he's now accused of killing American soldiers.

Watch Mandy Clark's report for the CBS Evening News:


U.S forces call Haqqani's network the most dangerous threat to Afghan security.

"You know when you are fighting Haqqani," said Lt. Col. Rob Campbell, commander of the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, "based on the size of the force and how committed they are and how close they'll get up to you and fight you."

As winter begins to take hold, the U.S. military expects many of Haqqani's fighters in eastern Afghanistan to head across the border into Pakistan to regroup and train.

"As he goes away, we are still here working with the people creating that environment that it's going look different when he gets back," Campbell said.

Afghan authorities said the hostile force included fighters who had been driven out of the Swat Valley of neighboring Pakistan after a Pakistani military offensive there last spring.

"This was a complex attack in a difficult area," U.S. Col. Randy George, the area commander, said in a statement. "Both the U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together."

Details of the attack remained unclear Sunday and there were conflicting reports of Afghan losses due to poor communications in the area, located just 20 miles from the Pakistani border and about 150 miles from Kabul.

A NATO statement said the attacks were launched from a mosque and a nearby village on opposite sides of a hill, which included the two outposts - one mostly American position on the summit and another mostly Afghan police garrison on a lower slope.

NATO said eight Americans and two Afghan security troopers were killed.

An Afghan military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security issues, said three Afghan soldiers and one policeman had been killed in two days of fighting. He also said at least seven Afghan army soldiers were missing and feared captured.

In addition, provincial police chief Mohammad Qasim Jangulbagh said 15 Afghan policemen had been captured, and confirmed the Taliban's claim to CBS News that the local police chief and his deputy were among those taken. Jangulbagh estimated that about 300 militants took part in the attack.
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