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2 Americans and More Than 20 Afghans Killed in Battle in Kunduz

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Two American soldiers and more than 30 Afghans were killed on Thursday in the midst of heavy fighting around the northern provincial capital of Kunduz, officials and local residents said.

The soldiers who died brought the number of Americans killed in combat in Afghanistan this month to five, compared with only four known combat deaths for the previous nine months. Two American soldiers were also wounded in Thursday’s fighting, the military said.

The governor of Kunduz, Asadullah Omarkhel, said 30 civilians were killed and 46 were wounded in airstrikes, which he attributed to Afghan forces, and he also said four Afghan Special Forces soldiers were killed. Local residents and other officials in Kunduz district, which includes the city of Kunduz and its outlying areas, attributed the airstrikes to the American military.

A New York Times reporter counted 22 bodies brought into the city on the way to the Kunduz hospital, 14 of them children, four women, two older men and two men of fighting age. They were accompanied by a large group of protesters from the area that was hit, the village of Boze Qandahari.

Safiullah Amiri, a member of the Kunduz Provincial Council, put the total dead at 30 civilians and said some were still being dug out of rubble after a nightlong series of airstrikes on the village. Islamuddin Timoori, a representative of the protesters who is from the area where the airstrikes took place, put the civilian toll from what he described as American bombing at 27 killed and an additional 70 wounded.

The village, on the outskirts of the city, is in a Taliban-dominated area.

Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, a spokesman for the United States military in Afghanistan, said that American soldiers were in the Kunduz district as advisers to an Afghan military operation. He said he could not comment on whether the American deaths were related to the reported civilian casualties, as family members and local officials claimed.

“Friendly forces were receiving direct fire and defended themselves,” General Cleveland said. “We have no evidence at this point of any civilian casualties, but we take all allegations very seriously.” He added, “Although this was an Afghan operation advised by U.S. forces, U.S. aircraft were used to defend all of the friendly forces.” An investigation is underway, he said.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, expressed condolences to the families of the two American soldiers , who have not yet been publicly identified. “Today’s loss is heartbreaking,” he said. “Despite today’s tragic event, we are steadfast in our commitment to help our Afghan partners defend their nation.”

Kunduz became the first city in Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban, for a two-week period last year, and early this month, the insurgents nearly overran the city again. On both occasions, they were beaten back by heavy American airstrikes guided by Special Forces troops on the ground, who also took what locals described as an active part in the fighting.

While the reduced numbers of American soldiers, currently about 10,000, are ostensibly in Afghanistan on a “train, advise and assist” mission, President Obama has eased the guidelines on when the American military can actively take part in combat operations.

Afghan police and military officials in Kunduz declined to comment officially. An Afghan military source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the news media, said that in the joint American and Afghan Special Operations mission, the troops had encountered heavy resistance and been surrounded by insurgents, and had therefore been forced to call in airstrikes.

A statement from the Afghan police in the area put the number of dead Taliban fighters at 14, including a commander named Qari Mutaqi. The police also confirmed that there had been some civilian casualties but did not say how many.

The Taliban posted a statement on their Facebook page claiming to have killed 15 American soldiers and saying the airstrike response had killed dozens of civilians.

Source: NYT > World

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