U.S. Special Forces soldier dies after attack by Taliban

Third American to die in Afghanistan in a week


KABUL, Afghanistan - An American Special Forces soldier has died from wounds sustained during an operation against Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said yesterday. He is the third American to die in operations in Afghanistan in less than a week.

The Special Forces soldier, whose name has not been released, was with a combat unit of Americans and Afghan militia when they came under attack Thursday from a group of 10 to 15 gunmen suspected of being members of the Taliban in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

While U.S. Apache helicopters and A-10 planes blasted the rebels, an Afghan soldier, who was also wounded, and the American were evacuated by helicopter to the U.S. air base just outside the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

The attack comes after three U.S. soldiers were slightly wounded in an ambush Monday in eastern Afghanistan and after two Americans working for the CIA were killed during a separate combat operation near the Pakistani border Oct. 25.

Forty U.S. soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the campaign against the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies in October 2001. The Taliban have regrouped this year and launched a new insurgency, along with supporters of the renegade guerrilla commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Four American soldiers were killed in combat in August, one of the bloodiest months in Afghanistan since the end of the major fighting last year.

In an interview last week the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in southern Afghanistan, Col. Burke Garrett, played down the strength of the Taliban, saying that his forces had never encountered a group of more than a dozen militants at a time. He described them as cowardly, and without support of the local population.

"The Afghan Taliban are a broken, dispirited, fractured movement," he said. "They have lost hope and are grasping at some last hope with their attacks." But he admitted that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader, was still at liberty and was moving in and out of the country from Pakistan, as were two of his more notorious commanders, Mullah Bradar and Mullah Dadullah.

Al-Qaida, while it no longer has a sanctuary in Afghanistan, continues to finance and manipulate the Taliban to continue attacks against U.S. and Afghan government forces, he said.

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