Taliban kill 10 French troops near Afghan capital

A wave of Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attempted to attack the main U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday but were repelled by ground troops and attack helicopters, NATO-led forces said.

Troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed seven of the insurgents, six of them suicide bombers, after they spotted them preparing to attack some 1,000 meters (yards) from the base.

Soldiers opened fire with small arms, then "helicopters arrived on station soon after and engaged these insurgents as they attempted to flee from the scene," ISAF said in a statement. "Three of the insurgents killed themselves by detonating their suicide vests. ISAF forces killed three other suicide bombers before they could detonate their vests. There were no ISAF casualties in the attack," it said.

A suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the same base, close to the border with Pakistan, on Monday killing 10 Afghan civilians and wounded 13 more.

After Tuesday's attack, the remaining Taliban insurgents were then driven back to houses in a nearby village and more air strikes were called in, the provincial governor said, but the Afghan Defense Ministry said fighting had subsided by midday.

Two children were killed and two more children and a woman were wounded, the provincial governor said.

Major Battle

ISAF troops were also engaged in a "major battle" with insurgents in Kabul province that began on Monday, ISAF said in a statement without giving further details.

The attacks on a large foreign base and major clashes near the capital point to a greater confidence among the Islamist Taliban militants who have stepped up their fight to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

The Defense Ministry said 27 insurgents have been killed or wounded in the clashes in Ouzbin area to the east of Kabul and at least two Afghan soldiers have been wounded. There were also casualties among ISAF troops, it said.

The Taliban said on its Web site that 20 U.S. soldiers had been killed in the fighting, which they said erupted after militants ambushed a convoy of Afghan and foreign forces late on Monday. That claim could not be verified immediately.

Fifteen suicide bombers attacked the U.S. base in the southeast, the Taliban said, saying they had inflicted heavy casualties on the foreign forces.

Camp Salerno is a large, sprawling base with a runway and helicopter landing pads close to the town of Khost and is the main hub for mostly U.S. troops in southeastern Afghanistan.

The east has seen a 40 percent rise in Taliban attacks in the past three months compared with last year, NATO says, partly as a result of ceasefires between the Pakistani army and militants which allow insurgents to send more forces into Afghanistan.

[Source: By Elyas Wahdat, Reuters, Khost, Afg, 19Aug08]

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