KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 12 suspected Taliban rebels were killed and two American soldiers wounded in a battle that began with a botched rebel attack on an Afghan army commander, officials said Tuesday.
Militants fired two rockets at Gen. Khial Baz’s car as he traveled over a mountain pass toward Gardez, about 60 miles south of Kabul, early Monday, said police chief Gul Suleyman Khel. Both rockets missed and the general was unhurt.
In response, U.S. helicopters ferried dozens of Afghan soldiers and police to the area and they engaged a group of suspected militants with small arms, Khel said. Other American helicopters and A-10 aircraft attacked from the sky. The battle lasted six hours. Khel put the number of rebel casualties at 12.
U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore said U.S. ground forces were also involved in the fighting and that two American soldiers were injured. The pair, who weren’t identified, were in stable condition, she said. She put the number of rebel casualties at “approximately 13.”
Khel said two men captured in the operation were in U.S. custody, though Moore had no word on any prisoners. No Afghan soldiers were reported hurt.
Khel said the attackers appeared to be Taliban rebels because of the size of the group, but provided no other details. The area is a former stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaida militants but is also riven by violent factional and tribal disputes.
Baz commanded a government-aligned militia unit which worked closely with U.S. troops in neighboring Khost province until it was disbanded earlier this year under a U.N. disarmament program. He has been targeted in several earlier attacks.
The 17,000-strong U.S. force still in Afghanistan more than three years after the fall of the Taliban government works increasingly with the new American-trained Afghan National Army, which now has more than 20,000 troops.