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Eight U.S. Troops Killed in Eastern Afghanistan Battle

Complex attack near Pakistan border one of fiercest in troubled eight-year war

Video

8 U.S. troops die in Afghanistan (NBC Nightly News, Oct. 4, 2009) — The fierce encounter resulted in the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since 2008. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports. (02:55)


October 4, 2009

KABUL — Hundreds of insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a pair of remote outposts near the Pakistan border, killing eight U.S. soldiers and capturing more than 20 Afghan security troops in the deadliest assault against U.S. forces in more than a year, military officials said Sunday.

The fierce gunbattle, which erupted at dawn Saturday in the Kamdesh district of mountainous Nuristan province and raged throughout the day, is likely to fuel the debate in Washington over the direction of the troubled eight-year war. It was the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a raid on an outpost in Wanat in the same province. …

‘Heavy enemy casualties’

U.S. troops used artillery, helicopter gunships and airstrikes Saturday to repel the attackers, inflicting “heavy enemy casualties,” according to a NATO statement. Fighting persisted in the area Sunday, U.S. and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay said the assailants included a mix of “tribal militias,” Taliban and fighters loyal to Sirajudin Haqqani, an al-Qaida-linked militant based in sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. Afghan authorities said the hostile force included fighters who had been driven out of the Swat Valley of neighboring Pakistan after a Pakistani military offensive there last spring.

“This was a complex attack in a difficult area,” U.S. Col. Randy George, the area commander, said in a statement. “Both the U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought bravely together.”

Details of the attack remained unclear Sunday, and there were conflicting reports of Afghan losses due to poor communications in the area, located just 20 miles from the Pakistani border and about 150 miles from Kabul.

The attack unfolds

A NATO statement said the attacks were launched from a mosque and a nearby village on opposite sides of a hill, which included the two outposts — one mostly American position on the summit and another mostly Afghan police garrison on a lower slope. …

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said militants overran both outposts, but U.S. spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said U.S. troops were holding the outposts Sunday. She also said a roadside bomb killed a U.S. service member southwest of Kabul on Saturday, bringing the U.S. death toll for the month to 15.

Region long a Taliban base

The fighting occurred in a region where towering mountains and dense pine forests have long served as a staging area for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who move freely across the Pakistani frontier. The region was a key staging area for Arab militants who fought alongside Afghan warriors during the U.S.-backed war against the Soviets in the 1980s and is one of the few parts of South Asia where Muslims follow the hardline Wahhabi sect of Islam.

The weekend fighting was reminiscent of the July 2008 battle of Wanat when an estimated 200 militants stormed an outpost defended by about 70 U.S. and Afghan soldiers, nearly overrunning the position. …

Full story

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Related report

Timeline: Deadliest days for U.S. troops in Afghanistan

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10/7/09 Update

Insurgents Breached Base During Afghan Battle

The Associated Press and Reuters via MSNBC.com
October 7, 2009

KABUL — Insurgents fought their way inside an American base in Afghanistan last weekend in a rare security breach before they were driven back under heavy fire during the deadliest battle for U.S. troops in more than a year, a U.S. official said Wednesday. …

Read full battle report

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2/5/10 Update

Delay in Afghan Base Closure Led to U.S. Deaths


February 5, 2010

KABUL — A delay of months in closing a remote combat outpost with “no tactical or strategic value” led to the deaths of eight U.S. soldiers last year in one of the worst battles of the Afghanistan war, a report found on Friday.

The U.S. military’s report into a Taliban assault on Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Nuristan province last October found the dozens of soldiers defending it fought with “conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery under heavy enemy fire.”

But it said commanders had already concluded months before that there was no purpose to holding the outpost. The base had already been scheduled to close in July or August, but the withdrawal was delayed for months because vehicles needed to remove gear from it were being used elsewhere. …

An unclassified executive summary of the mainly secret report into the Oct. 9 battle said that by the time Combat Outpost Keating was attacked by 300 insurgents, it had long since become clear that there was no reason to hold it. Soldiers there could do little but protect themselves from constant attack. …

Full story

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Related reports on this site

U.S. Troops ‘Sitting Ducks’ (Oct. 19, 2009)

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties (Oct. 13, 2009)

Afghanistan: The 8-Year War (Oct. 7, 2009)

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CONSTITUENT ISSUES

Today’s New York Times has the story of Stephanie Smith of Cold Spring, Minn., whose life was shatttered by a tainted hamburger. [Update: This story ultimately won a Pulitzer Prize.]

Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef

Tainted hamburger shatters Cold Spring woman’s life

Stephanie Smith, 22, of Cold Spring, Minn., was paralyzed after being stricken by E. coli in 2007. Officials traced the E. coli to hamburger her family had eaten. (Photo: Ben Garvin for The New York Times)

Stephanie Smith, 22, of Cold Spring, Minn., was paralyzed after being stricken by E. coli in 2007. Officials traced the E. coli to hamburger her family had eaten. (Photo: Ben Garvin for The New York Times)

By Michael Moss

October 4, 2009

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?'” Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known. …

Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe. …

Tracing the Illness

The Smiths were slow to suspect the hamburger. Ms. Smith ate a mostly vegetarian diet, and when she grew increasingly ill, her mother, Sharon, thought the cause might be spinach, which had been tied to a recent E. coli outbreak.

Five days after the family’s Sunday dinner, Ms. Smith was admitted to St. Cloud Hospital in excruciating pain. “I’ve had women tell me that E. coli is more painful than childbirth, said Dr. Phillip I. Tarr, a pathogen expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

The vast majority of E. coli illnesses resolve themselves without complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five percent to 10 percent develop into a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can affect kidney function. While most patients recover, in the worst cases, like Ms. Smith’s, the toxin in E. coli O157:H7 penetrates the colon wall, damaging blood vessels and causing clots that can lead to seizures.

To control Ms. Smith’s seizures, doctors put her in a coma and flew her to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors worked to save her.

“They didnt even think her brain would work because of the seizuring,” her mother said. “Thanksgiving Day, I was sitting there holding her hand when a group of doctors came in, and one looked at me and just walked away, with nothing good to say. And I said, ‘Oh my God, maybe this is my last Thanksgiving with her,’ and I stayed and prayed.”

Ms. Smith’s illness was linked to the hamburger only by chance. Her aunt still had some of the frozen patties, and state health officials found that they were contaminated with a powerful strain of E. coli that was genetically identical to the pathogen that had sickened other Minnesotans.

Dr. Kirk Smith, who runs the state’s food-borne illness outbreak group and is not related to Ms. Smith, was quick to finger the source. A 4-year-old had fallen ill three weeks earlier, followed by her year-old brother and two more children, state records show. Like Ms. Smith, the others had eaten Cargill patties bought at Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart.

Moreover, the state officials discovered that the hamburgers were made on the same day, Aug. 16, 2007, shortly before noon. The time stamp on the Smiths’ box of patties was 11:58.

On Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, a Minnesota Health Department warning led local news broadcasts. “We didn’t want people grilling these things over the weekend,” Dr. Smith said. “I’m positive we prevented illnesses. People sent us dozens of cartons with patties left. It was pretty contaminated stuff.”

Eventually, health officials tied 11 cases of illness in Minnesota to the Cargill outbreak, and altogether, federal health officials estimate that the outbreak sickened 940 people. Four of the 11 Minnesota victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome — an usually high rate of serious complications. …

For Ms. Smith, the road ahead is challenging. She is living at her mother’s home in Cold Spring, Minn. She spends a lot of her time in physical therapy, which is being paid for by Cargill in anticipation of a legal claim, according to Mr. Marler. Her kidneys are at high risk of failure. She is struggling to regain some basic life skills and deal with the anger that sometimes envelops her. Despite her determination, doctors say, she will most likely never walk again.

Full story and video at NYTimes.com

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5/12/10 Update

Cargill settles Minn. tainted-burger case (Star Tribune, May 12, 2010) — Cargill Inc. publicly acknowledged responsibility Wednesday for life-shattering injuries suffered by a young Minnesota dance instructor after she ate a contaminated hamburger. … The Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant and the victim of the E. coli-tainted burger, Stephanie Smith, jointly announced that they have settled a suit filed by Smith in December. Terms weren’t disclosed, but Cargill, one of the nation’s largest beef producers, agreed to cover Smith’s care for the rest of her life. Smith, 22, had asked for $100,000 in compensatory damages, plus payment of past and future hospital bills. … Full story

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 4, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 25

One year ago today, on the 25th day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I reported the killing of a senior al-Qaida in Iraq bombing mastermind, the withdrawal of Polish forces from Iraq, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s first public appearance in more than a month amid speculation about his health.

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Related reports on this site

Kim Jong Il threat assessment (May 31, 2009)

Tense stand-off with North Korea (May 28, 2009)

Korea headache looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)

Obama faces daunting challenges (Nov. 6, 2008)

Kim Jong Il appears in public (Oct. 4, 2008)

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9 Responses to “Deadly Day for U.S. in Afghanistan”
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