U.S, Afghan Forces Kill Militants

U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan militia killed 18 rebel fighters during a six-hour firefight in a border province, calling in airstrikes to help repel the attackers, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

Six Afghan militia soldiers were wounded in the fighting that began Saturday morning, the coalition said in a statement.
Coalition forces were patrolling 27 miles south of a base in Shkin in Gomal district of Paktika province when they made contact with as many as 25 anti-coalition fighters, the military said.

During an exchange of small-arms fire by the ground forces, A-10 Thunderbolt airplanes and Apache helicopters were called in for airstrikes. One vehicle was destroyed, and the rebels retreated, the military said.

The clash was reported Monday by Afghan officials, but they gave conflicting accounts. A provincial governor said Monday that 22 Taliban had been killed. But a regional military commander said only 10 Taliban died.

Tuesday's statement was the first by the coalition on the incident.

The statement didn't specify if the attackers were former Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists. Remnants of those forces have mounted increasing attacks in Afghanistan's border regions with Pakistan.

Taliban and al Qaeda rebels have been launching increasingly bold assaults in recent months, raiding police stations, killing aid workers and confronting U.S. troops in growing numbers.

Across the border in Pakistan, authorities on Monday questioned three suspected al Qaeda operatives captured over the weekend, but the interior minister said a top fugitive financier for the terror network was not among them.

Police have been searching for Ahmad Said al-Kadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen, since he escaped a major military operation on Oct. 2 in the South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.

On Saturday, police raided a home in Faisalabad, an industrial city in the eastern province of Punjab, and said they captured a suspect believed to be a senior al Qaeda leader, prompting speculation he might be the fugitive financier.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat confirmed Monday that intelligence services have three suspected al Qaeda members all from Yemen — caught in Faisalabad, "but none of them is an important al Qaeda leader."

The minister said al-Kadr is not among those held.

Al-Kadr, who is on the U.S. government's list of most wanted al Qaeda leaders, ran the Afghan operations of Human Concern International, a Canadian charity.

He was arrested in Pakistan in 1995 for financing the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad by the Egyptian Al Jihad organization, but was released after Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien intervened with then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Chretien later said he had not been fully briefed about al-Kadr's case before raising it.

Al-Kadr's son Omar, who was then 15, was wounded and captured in a battle in July 2002 with U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan. An older son, Abdul Rahman, was held last year in Afghanistan.

In related news, the European Union slated $93.4 million for humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan on Monday, the fourth in a series of relief packages to the war-ravaged nation since 2001.

The funds are part of $470 million set aside in March, with the largest slice, $41 million, for rebuilding major roads. Nearly one-third of the money will aim to prop up rural economies.

"The program aims to restore political stability…to promote respect for the rule of law and human rights, especially those of women, and to alleviate poverty by improving levels of economic activity," the executive European Commission said in a statement.

The efforts will engage the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and private companies. Government and election reforms will receive $18 million.

Social services and housing for refugees will get $7 million.

The EU provided Afghanistan some $56 million in humanitarian aid last year as part of a $329 million package.

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