(AP) QALAT, Afghanistan – Two American soldiers were killed Sunday in a firefight with suspected Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in increasing fighting between U.S.-led forces and remnants of the country’s ousted regime.
The soldiers were killed in a remote region outside the town of Shkin near the Pakistani border. At the same time, hundreds of Taliban reinforcements moved into a mountainous region in southern Afghanistan where U.S. and Afghan forces have been pounding guerrilla hideouts in a battle over the past week.
The U.S. military said U.S. troops were on a “combat mission” northwest of Shkin when they came under attack. Three Americans were wounded in the initial assault.
A rapid reaction team was called in and a 90-minute battle ensued, the military said. Four insurgents were killed. Two A-10 warplanes took off to provide air support, but did not open fire.
Four insurgents were killed in the clash, it said. Two of the wounded Americans died, and the third was taken to Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for treatment.
The deaths brought to four the number of American soldiers killed during fighting in Afghanistan in less than two weeks. Amid reports that the Taliban are regrouping — along with other Afghan and al-Qaida allies — U.S.-led forces in the country have come under increasingly ferocious attack.
In southern Afghanistan, U.S. fighter jets and helicopters pounded suspected Taliban positions Sunday in a fresh assault in the rugged mountain peaks where the Americans and their Afghan allies have been besieging insurgents.
Airstrikes went on for three hours overnight in the Dai Chupan district of Zabul province, then resumed Sunday morning, Afghan officials said. Fighting died down after the strikes, and Afghan troops were moving in on some of the bombed positions, Gen. Haji Saifullah Khan said from the scene of the fighting.
In one area, Afghan soldiers swept through the area following the bombing and claimed to have seen 14 newly killed Taliban fighters, said Khalil Hotak, the province’s intelligence chief. There were no reports of casualties among government forces.
Dozens of Taliban fighters are reported to have been killed and several others arrested so far in the fighting about 42 miles north of Qalat, the provincial capital, although it has been impossible to get independent confirmation of casualty figures.
“We are tightening the siege against them step by step. We will either capture them alive or take the force out of them,” Hotak said.
Khan said Sunday that intelligence indicated more than 250 Taliban reinforcements had arrived from the neighboring district of Mizan.
“We have an informer among these people (Taliban),” Khan told AP. He spoke by satellite telephone from Larzab, on the front line of the battle.
About 500 Afghan soldiers had been earlier reported involved in the battles with the Taliban. Hotak said reinforcements have been sent and about 800 Afghan soldiers were in the region now.
On Sunday, Hotak said hundreds of American troops were in Dai Chupan, but the U.S. military did not confirm that claim. He earlier said there were 60 to 70 U.S. soldiers.
The U.S.-led coalition has 11,500 soldiers in Afghanistan — most of them Americans — to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, mainly in the south and east of the country.
Last week, two American soldiers were killed, one from an accidental fall during fighting on Friday, the other from hostile fire near Orgun in Paktika province.
Fighters from the Taliban militia, which was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001, appear to be regrouping. Their recent attacks have been bolder and better coordinated.