American and Afghan troops killed six militants during fighting in southern Afghanistan, while two suspected Taliban rebels and an Afghan soldier were killed in a second clash, officials said Sunday. Meanwhile, an explosion Saturday during celebrations for the Islamic feast of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, wounded 23 people, five seriously, in eastern Khost province, said Amir Pacha Ramatzi, a local doctor. Deputy police chief Mohammed Zaman said it wasn't clear what caused the blast or who was responsible for it. The first battle began Friday when militants fired on a joint Afghan-U.S. patrol in volatile southern Uruzgan province, according to a U.S. military statement and military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara.
An unspecified number of insurgents who survived the battle fled the area, the statement said. There were no Afghan or U.S. casualties. The fighting occurred in an area where the Netherlands is considering sending up to 1,400 troops as part of a new NATO operation to take over from American forces, who have been fighting militants there since ousting the Taliban in 2001 for hosting Osama bin Laden. The Dutch have come under strong pressure from the United States, the European Union and NATO allies to make good on the deployment, but fears in The Hague that the troops may face high levels of violence has delayed a decision.
The second clash occurred before dawn Saturday when militants attacked an Afghan army checkpoint in eastern Paktia province, an Afghan Defense Ministry statement said. One soldier and two suspected Taliban rebels were killed, it said. Violence across southern and eastern Afghanistan spiked last year, leaving about 1,600 people dead, the most since 2001.
The fighting normally eases during the winter months, when snow blankets the region, but the past few weeks have seen a string of suicide attacks and other assaults. The violence has left large swaths of the country off-limits to aid workers and raised fears for Afghanistan's nascent democracy, reports the AP. N.U.